5 Insanely Blatant Acts of Plagiarism by Famous People

Ideas are hard, you guys. At least when you insist on actually coming up with your own -- that's why the Internet is mostly just people copying and pasting somebody else's shit.

But there is a certain level at which public figures just can't get away with it -- politicians, famous authors, scientists -- people who know their work is going to be scrutinized. Yet, sometimes even the most famous of them engage in thievery so laughably obvious that you have to wonder if they wanted to be caught ...

#5. Jane Goodall "Borrows" from Wikipedia and Pseudoscience Sites

Michael Nagle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Primatologist Jane Goodall is often confused with Sigourney Weaver's character in Gorillas in the Mist (Weaver actually played Dian Fossey). There is a reason for this: In the world of academia, Goodall's score on the Scale of Badassitude is "Ellen Ripley." She took her first steps in primatology with no degree or training, studied chimpanzees in Tanzania for a while, and, after making a bunch of groundbreaking discoveries, waltzed her way into flippin' Cambridge University. Before you know it, she managed to obtain a PhD from this super-university without any prior degrees, a feat that the writers of Air Bud would have deemed unrealistic.

Jeekc, via Wikimedia
They also awarded her stuffed chimp an honorary master's out of sheer respect.

The secret behind Goodall's academic street cred is simple: She has a reputation as an extremely meticulous researcher.

Well, except for that one time ...

The Plagiarism:

In early 2013, Goodall became the center of a plagiarism controversy around her book Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. It was meant to be Goodall's take on genetically modified crops, but people soon started noticing that many parts of the text were ... borrowed. Not from obscure and little-known scientific texts, either -- Goodall's book contained unsourced sentences and entire paragraphs from various web pages, ranging from astrology sites and beer pages to goddamn Wikipedia.

Which became apparent when research was attributed to Prof. Jack Mehoff.

Although Goodall immediately apologized (yet still maintained that the book was well-researched), it soon turned out the scope of plagiarism was bigger than initially thought, to the point where people's answers to Goodall's "interviews" were directly copied from other sources. Combine this with the book's attempts to discuss a legitimate and polarizing issue using data drawn from goddamn astrology sites, and it's easy to see why the impressive reputation Goodall has built over five decades is now running the risk of ending in ruins.

Zachariel, via Wikimedia
"The moon is moving toward Pars Fortuna, and the Planet of the Apes is ascendant."

It should be noted that Goodall didn't write the book alone. She was aided by Gail Hudson, an experienced freelance writer whose previous interests include holistic living, organic foods, and ... spirituality editing?

Yeah. With all due respect to an accomplished scientist, that's probably not the best writing partner for an unbiased stance on GMO maize.

#4. A Republican Politician Steals a Speech ... from Obama

CQ-Roll Call Group/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty Images

In Idaho's 2010 Republican primary, congressional hopeful Vaughn Ward was blazing a trail toward a bright political future. An Iraq War veteran who was selected as one of the Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns," Ward was a veritable political goldmine -- a fresh young face with a hero's resume. To add to his cred, he was endorsed by Sarah Palin (this was a good thing once, remember) and his campaign cash pile made his competition pale in comparison.

There were only two things standing between Vaughn Ward and a bright future in D.C. One of them was Vaughn Ward, and the other was a speech that he stole from a little-known politician called Barack Obama.

U.S. Congress
"But honestly, how will people ever know?
They'd need some kind of magical machine that instantly looks up information."

The Plagiarism:

Ward's oratory abilities -- or lack thereof -- had already become apparent when he comically referred to Puerto Rico, an unincorporated U.S. territory, as an independent country during a debate. When his opponent (who happened to be from Puerto Rico) seized the opportunity to unleash a justified verbal smackdown, Ward retaliated with the cunning argument: "I really don't care what it is. I mean, it doesn't matter." Because, you know, why would a congressman care about U.S. territory?

CQ-Roll Call Group/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty Images

Common sense in the back seat, geography in the trunk.

Perhaps this is why Ward started preferring other people's words to his own. Only, instead of hiring a speech writer or brain therapist or whatever it is politicians prone to speaking out of their asses do, he resorted to stealing shit from other politicians.

No fewer than five of the 10 position statements on Ward's website were copied verbatim from the websites of fellow Republicans, including big names such as future vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. There's still a chance Ward might have shrugged that shit off, if he hadn't also seen fit to steal some of the most memorable lines from President Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Granted, it's a well-regarded speech that launched Obama into political super stardom, so it's far from the worst one you could quote ... for a political essay, properly sourced. If you happen to be a Republican trying to pass those words as your own, you're up shit creek within minutes because every single political journalist recognizes the text as the famous speech given by the reigning ultimate Democrat.

Let's take a look at Ward's Xeroxing, courtesy of Idaho's NewsChannel 7:

Obama: "We stand on the crossroads of history"

Ward: "As we stand on the crossroads of history"

Obama: "We can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us"

Ward: "I know we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that lay before us"

Obama: "If you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do"

Ward: "If you feel the same urgency and the same passion that I do"

Obama: "Then I have no doubt"

Ward: "Then I have no doubt"

Obama: "The people will rise up in November"

Ward: "That our voices will be heard in November"

Obama: "And this country will reclaim its promise"

Ward: "Our country will reclaim its promise"

Obama: "And out of this long political darkness"

Ward: "And out of this darkness"

Obama: "A brighter day will come"

Ward: "A better day is on the horizon"

Chris Butler
Note to self: Stop before "Yes we can" part.

Really, the only thing that's more hilarious than the fact that Ward did this was the fact that after he was inevitably called out, he still tried to claim he had written that shit himself. Two guesses as to whether he made it to Congress.

#3. Alex Haley's Roots Is a Cocktail of Fact, Fiction, and Thievery


For some of you, the mention of Alex Haley's Roots might trigger gruesome flashbacks of Kunta Kinte, played by LeVar Burton in the TV adaptation, getting viciously whipped by his slave owners. However, Roots was a lot more than mere nightmare fodder for Reading Rainbow enthusiasts. A gripping saga that follows seven generations of the author's ancestry from Africa into the horrors of slavery and racism, the book earned Haley a special Pulitzer award in 1977.

And, like all great historical tales, it will likely be butchered in an upcoming History Channel special.

But while the book deserves praise as a cultural phenomenon, literary feat, and sobering reminder of humanity's messed-up past, there's another side to the story ...

The Plagiarism:

Roots was a curious hodgepodge of fact, fabrication, and complete thievin' dickery.

Haley was pretty open about making up parts of the book, often referring to it as a "faction." Still, the book's entire focus was the progression of a family's various generations from one bullshit event to another. Too bad Kinte, the most famous character in the book, was likely born decades later than Haley depicted and under markedly different living conditions. So different, in fact, that Kinte might not be related to the author at all. Alex Haley relied heavily on oral histories to substantiate his historical claims, which proved a problem when critics started pointing out the various inaccuracies of his story and possible gross liberties he took with the content of his research.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
His family tree included Jesus and Superman up until the third draft.

But that's just general fuckery -- we're here for the plagiarism. Enter Margaret Walker Alexander, who sued the shoes off of Haley with the claim that Roots greedily gobbled passages from her book Jubilee, also a mix of historical fact and fiction documenting its author's ancestry. The court found clear evidence that Haley had been influenced by Alexander's book, but could do nothing: Alexander, who later claimed Haley may have stolen from hundreds of books, found to her shock that the six characters, roughly 150 verbatim expressions, and countless lifted themes Roots allegedly took from Jubilee were legally unprotected.

When another legal Roots shoe dropped, this time over passages stolen from Harold Courlander's The African, Haley didn't even bother arguing the case -- he just threw money at the problem until it went away.

And that, dear reader, is how you steal your way into history.

Via Biography.com
"I prefer the term plagistory."

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