We tend to think of plagiarism as being the last refuge for the lazy, the cheaters and the incompetent. We like to think of plagiarists as people whose lack of character exceeds their lack of talent.
However, history has shown us that this is not always the case. while some plagiarists, like jayson blair and jonah lehrer, have their careers crashed on the rocks of their unethical behavior, others see plagiarism as a mere footnote as part of a long and great career.
why this is not always clear. sometimes it has to do with the era in which the plagiarism also occurred, the specific facts of the case, or simply the fact that it was not an important part of their lives.
In short, people exhibit poor, even excellent judgment, and sometimes that error is plagiarism. that shouldn’t diminish your achievements.
In that vein, here are five examples of people who have, with some validity, been accused of plagiarism but whose careers, names, or reputations have not been significantly tarnished, usually because the scope of their accompaniments far exceeds the accusations themselves.
1. martin luther king jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s greatness needs no explanation or introduction.
In the 1950s and 1960s, his leadership in the civil rights movement not only earned King a Nobel Peace Prize, but also helped bring about radical change in the United States. His iconic “I have a dream” speech is still remembered as one of America’s most powerful and important speeches. story.
His imprint on American history runs deep and he continues to inspire others today to fight injustice and fight for equality for all.
king’s most prominent encounter with plagiarism occurred in 1955. in support of his doctorate at boston university, king delivered a dissertation entitled “a comparison of the conceptions of god in the thought of paul tillich and henry nelson wieman”. .” he was able to successfully defend his dissertation and got his degree.
however, after his wife donated king’s papers to stanford university’s king papers project, the group organizing the papers learned that parts of his earlier writing, including his doctoral thesis, had been taken from other authors. Ralph Lurker, a historian who worked on the project, said that as King continued his academic career, attribution problems became more “deeply ingrained” and were “long-established practice” when he wrote his dissertation. .
Claims have also been made on some of his later work, including his “I have a dream” speech, which was allegedly stolen from another pastor, Archibald Carey. However, the similarities between the two works are very limited and are explained by the extraction of both speeches from an earlier work, namely Samuel Francis Smith’s “America” anthem.
In the end, however, the University of Boston investigated the plagiarism allegations and, in 1991, found that King’s dissertation did indeed contain plagiarism. however, although the school attached a note to the dissertation, it refused to revoke its title saying that the dissertation, despite its shortcomings, still contributed to the field.
accusations of plagiarism only surfaced decades after his death. by then, he was already (rightly so) a national hero. while accusations of plagiarism have become a footnote, they haven’t drastically changed people’s views of the king or his legacy.
this makes sense because king’s achievements were outside the academy. As Lurker said in his article, if King had chosen a different career, his plagiarism might have posed a much bigger problem. But as a civil rights leader, King’s plagiarism is an unwanted footnote overshadowed by larger accompaniments.
2. jane goodall
jane goodall is one of the few scientists that the general public can easily name. She is best known for her lifelong work studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, she is not only known as one of the leading experts on chimpanzees, but also for her conservation and animal rights efforts.
The author of numerous books, articles, and other works, Goodall has spent more than 50 years helping humans better understand chimpanzees and how similar they are to us. he has also been the public face of the movement, regularly appearing on television shows and in other media to convey his message.
Where King’s plagiarism took place before his career began, Goodall’s plagiarism accusations come in the most recent parts of his extremely long career.
In early 2013, Goodall was preparing to publish a new book titled “Seeds of Hope”. However, when review copies were sent to various newspapers, Steven Levingston at the Washington Post noted that the book contained several used passages without attribution.
to make matters worse, the passages came from sources that were less than desirable, such as wikipedia, astrology sites, etc.
the daily beast followed up and said it found evidence that even more passages were removed, leading to further concern about the book’s release.
goodall apologized for the plagiarism and blamed “chaotic note-taking” for the problems. the book ended up being postponed to address plagiarism issues and was published in early 2014.
Many, including myself, feel that the book should not have been published. not only plagiarism problems, but also the quality of the sources call the work into question.
However, Goodall herself has always been somewhat divisive among scientists. Although she is well regarded as a public figure, her approach to science, which included naming chimpanzees rather than numbering them, has always been controversial.
Considering this is the first instance of plagiarism in a long and ethically flawless career, it makes sense that this incident wouldn’t single-handedly destroy his reputation. while half a century of outstanding research doesn’t give one the right to plagiarize, it does give one additional forgiveness, especially for a problem caught early.
It also helps that plagiarism is not in your main field. Seeds of Hope is a starting point for everyone, discussing plant life rather than primates. while it is relevant to her message of environmentalism and conservation, it has little to do with her work as a researcher.
3. johnny cash
One of the biggest names in music history, Johnny Cash is primarily thought of as a country musician but has actually been inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll and Gospel Music Halls of fame.
Cash’s many hits include songs like I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, A Boy Named Sue and Jackson, a duet with his wife June Carter Cash.
Known as much for his black attire as he is for his music, “the man in black” enjoyed a career spanning nearly five decades that earned him countless awards and his music continues to influence multiple musical genres to this day.
In 1955, Johnny Cash recorded the song “Folsom Prison Blues”, the story of a convicted murderer who is tortured by the sound of a passing train while trapped in prison. It was released that year and was reissued in 1968 after he performed the song in Folsom Prison.
However, Cash had excerpted the melody and much of the lyrics from a 1953 song “Crescent City Blues” by Gordon Jenkins, about a narrator hoping to get out of a small Midwestern town. although cash had changed the song quite drastically, turning it into a piece about regret and incarceration, the similarities were still more than evident.
The plagiarism led to a lawsuit, which was quickly settled with a cash payment of $75,000 to fix the problem. that amount is worth about $660,000 today.
The lawsuit and the accusations did not seem to affect the cash race at all. then he released countless other hits, had his own television show and found success almost everywhere he went.
The incident seems to be isolated (and costly) from the cash run and seems to have been forgiven/forgotten by both the music industry and the public. this is compounded by the fact that musical plagiarism appears to be extremely common. After all, the beach boys, George Harrison and, more recently, Sam Smith, were involved in plagiarism disputes.
Of course, Led Zeppelin is probably the most famous serial music rip-off and his name hasn’t suffered much as a result either.
It seems that while copyright lawsuits are expensive, music plagiarism rarely kills careers.
4. Helen Keller
Born in 1880, at the age of 19 months, Helen Keller became blind and deaf due to illness. After being educated by Anne Sullivan, a story immortalized in the play and film The Miracle Worker, Keller became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and became a prolific author, public speaker, and activist. political. .
Today, Keller is best known for The Miracle Worker and her autobiography, The Story of My Life. In 1961 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ highest civilian honors, and in 1965 she was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
at age 11, keller was already a celebrity. She wrote a short story titled The Frost King which was, picked up by the Goodson Gazette, a journal on deaf-blind education. However, after its publication, it was noted that the story bore a strong resemblance to another short story titled Frost Fairies by Margaret Canby.
Initially, people around Keller were blamed on the theory that she was being exploited. However, Keller repeatedly stated that she had never been exposed to frost fairies, that she did not have a copy, and that she did not remember the story.
according to sullivan, his investigation into the matter uncovered that a copy of the story was in the house keller stayed at while sullivan was on vacation and it was read to him there. Keller claims to have forgotten that the story was read to him, although he retained much of the plot.
The case is often cited as an example of cryptomnesia.
Keller’s plagiarism story is quite unusual.
His career had not started when the incident occurred. At only 11 years old, she was still a child, even if she was already a celebrity, and the blame for her never fell on her. Instead, it was Sullivan and others around Keller who were accused of wrongdoing.
Still, the incident had no lasting effect on his career and is more of an odd footnote than anything else. this is reinforced by the seemingly credible allegations of cryptomnesia and this case becomes more of a “freak incident” than an ethical misstep.
No other significant accusations of plagiarism were made against Keller for the rest of his career.
5. t.s. eliot
Thomas Sterns Eliot, better known as T.S. Eliot was world-renowned poet and and playwright famous for writing the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Hollow Men and various plays, including Murder in the Cathedral.
Still, it was his poetry that earned him accolades, including the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 1948. He remains one of the best-known and most studied poets in the English language.
In 1922 Eliot published the popular poem The Waste Land. decades later it was discovered that the poem was largely a hodgepodge of text by lesser-known poets, one of them named madison casein and her poem entitled waste land.
long before the publication of waste land, eliot had no longer concealed his appropriation. in 1920 he published an essay that said, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets disfigure what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
evidence of eliot’s plagiarism appeared during his lifetime. however, more often than not the evidence was dismissed as an allusion or homage to the earlier work. Elliot was the picture of success throughout his life.
But since his death, his reputation has taken a slightly higher toll with critics repeatedly attacking his lack of originality.
while eliot is still widely regarded as an important poet and a code name to study, the beating his image has taken may keep him off a list like this 10 to 20 years from now, just because he it can be too. known for the lack of originality of it as the poetry of it.
Still, the fact remains that, in his lifetime, accusations never seriously hurt Eliot and he remains one of the few poets who are widely known to the general public.
Human beings tend to be very complicated creatures. we all do things we’re not proud of, we all have things we wish we could take back, and we’ve all made stupid decisions.
While it’s tempting to paint plagiarists with a broad brush, judging someone solely for their bad deeds or biggest mistakes is unfair. If we believe that many serious criminals can turn their lives around and do good that outweighs their mistakes, then so can plagiarists.
To be clear, plagiarism is still a significant faux pas. it is a lie and deprives the original creators of the reward for their work. no industry or culture that values originality can afford to take plagiarism lightly.
However, we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously that we never give a plagiarist, especially a first-offense plagiarist, a chance to redeem themselves and improve the world.
Doing that not only creates a culture of fear around plagiarism, it deprives the rest of society of the great works and potential exploits that a previous plagiarist creates.
In the end, however, what is unfair about these stories is not that several plagiarists have been able to have great careers and achieve amazing things, but that others in exactly the same position with similar misdeeds were not.
Right now, there is little to no consistency in how the plagiarism ethic is applied and that creates double and triple standards that keep many serious plagiarists working, while pushing others out of their fields.
but as we move forward in fixing this imbalance in the system, we must remember that not all plagiarists are bad people with nothing to contribute to society. Even as we work to minimize plagiarism, we must work to maximize contribution to society.
Think how much would have been lost if the work of those above had been lost to us forever due to plagiarism? Would the world be a richer place? almost certainly not. so let’s not leave out the next great scholar, activist, or author just because of a single misstep.