‘Plagiarist’ is perhaps one of the worst words one could level at a writer. Depending on the context in which the word is being used it could mean ‘cheat’, ‘liar’, ‘thief’ or a combination of any of those three words. Many countries have laws protecting intellectual property. Though students who copy the work of another are not breaking the law, it has serious implications for their on-going study and grades and could lead to academic awards being revoked. Here is a list of ten of the most noteworthy plagiarisms.
1. James A MacKay
This Scottish historian was forced to remove several of his works from sale during the course of the 1980s for having plagiarised a number of previous works on the same subject matter: Alexander Graham Bell, Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace and Andrew Carnegie. Though he was never sued for these plagiarisms (because he withdrew the offending titles) his reputation was destroyed. However he did go on to publish several more successful biographies.
2. Marks Chabedi
Academic plagiarism doesn’t come more shocking than when a University Professor is found to have plagiarised his entire PhD thesis from another source. That is exactly what happened with this South African man when he copied the thesis of a professor of the same field working in Florida (a woman by the name of Kimberly Lanegran). He lost his job, had his PhD revoked and the journal in which it appeared had to publish a retraction shortly afterward.
3. DÃ„Æ’nuÃ…£ Marcu
Another published academic, DÃ„Æ’nuÃ…£ Marcu, has in his career published in the region of 400 Ã‚ and computer science. However, some of his more recent work has been show up to be exact copies of works by other authors. Accusations of plagiarism against the academic are so frequent that at least four journals have banned his work and many others have publicly stated that they suspect his guilt.
It isn’t just writers and broadcasters that are accused of plagiarism. In the 1970s, the founders of Atari found themselves at the centre of a storm involving their flagship game ‘Pong’. Game makers Magnavox accused Atari of copying their own flagship tennis game for their Odyssey gaming system. The argument was that Atari founders had seen their version of the game at an electronics show before founding their business (the visitor book demonstrated that the men had played the game); the case dragged on for several years and finally went to an out of court settlement.
5. Jonah Lehrer
It might be considered slightly less of an infringement of intellectual copyright, but the same restrictions do apply to self-plagiarism. Even if you own the rights to certain texts or photographs, you still need to quote the original text. Jonah Lehrer fell into this trap when he copied text from articles he published elsewhere for a new article in The New Yorker. Aside from being unethical, there may be legal issues if the copyright had been sold or otherwise willingly surrendered to another source (Implied Right).
6. Helen Keller
Bigger names are not always exempt from accusations of plagiarism and Helen Keller held up a most unusual defence in 1892 when accused of copying a short story called ‘The Frost Fairies’ in her own work similarly entitled ‘The Frost King’. Her defence was that she had no memory of reading it and later commented that she had was forever afterward paranoid about further accusations of plagiarism. The incident led her to write her biography, something she no doubt knew couldn’t be accused of copyright infringement.
7. Dan Brown
The best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code was twice brought to court on charges of plagiarism, most notably by the authors of ‘The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’ Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The lengthy trial was eventually dismissed from court when the court upheld the defence that the earlier work had claimed to be a work of non-fiction and that Brown had sufficiently credited the work at the end of the novel. Similarly, author Lewis Purdue accused Brown of plagiarising two of his works but this too was thrown out of court.
8. Andy Warhol
The visual arts are not exempt from plagiarism. Andy Warhol found himself at the centre of several such lawsuits when he took images belonging to other photographers and adapted them to a silk-screen method. When challenged, Warhol chose to settle out of court and eventually paid the photographers a portion of the royalties. Similarly, his photograph of the Campbell’s soup can is not considered an infringement because it was unlikely to be used by them or a competing business.
9. Joe Biden
Current Vice President of the USA was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Presidential nominations when it was discovered that he had failed a law school course in the 1960s due to plagiarism. This wasn’t the only accusation because he was also accused of using portions of speeches from other politicians, most notably former leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Neil Kinnock and former US Senator Robert Kennedy. He later stated that he had regularly cited both men and that this had been a campaign by his rival Michael Dukakis to discredit him.
Wikipedia is a great reference for those wanting to look up information quickly. In most cases, a lot of sources are now properly referenced with links to blogs, news stories and in many cases, open access journal articles. In 2006, Associated Press listed over one hundred articles where it claimed plagiarism was rife on Wikipedia. Wikipedia disputed these claims insisting that though in some cases the charge held up, in other cases it was those others sources that had copied from Wikipedia.
Sometimes, an individual is accused of plagiarism through mere accident and not realising what is required of them. If you choose to use a passage from the work of another, it is down to you to ensure that it is a direct quote and labelled as such or that you correctly reference the work from which you obtained the passage. It is important not to attempt to pass off the work of another as your own.