Guilty of Plagiarism? 5 Popular Plagiarism Scandals and Accusations

The Ethics of Plagiarism

The old adage says, "There are no new ideas, only new ways of expressing them." What happens when a writer copies those expressions and passes them off as his or her own? Here are five well-known plagiarism scandals. What can you learn from each of them?

Stephen Ambrose (Creative Commons photo)
Stephen E. Ambrose (Jan. 1936 - Oct. 2002) was an American historian and biographer implicated of plagiarism, falsification, and incorrectness.

Stephen Ambrose
Ambrose was a highly respected history professor, war historian and biographer. He rose to fame with his book Band of Brothers, a book recounting WWII from the perspective of members of one infantry group. In 2002, he was accused of using passages from Wings of Morning by Thomas Childers in his book The Wild Blue. Although the initial discovery was made by Fred Barnes from The Weekly, Forbes magazine found more instances of plagiarism in six other books.

Michael Bolton Photo (Creative Commons)
Michael Bolton (born Feb. 1953) is an American singer and songwriter.

Michael Bolton
In the late 80's and early 90's, Bolton was famous for his hair and soulful voice. He was later known for paying out the largest monetary settlement to date. Bolton was sued for plagiarism by the Isley Brothers because his 1991 song "Love is a Wonderful Thing" shared not only a title but other musical elements with Isley's 1964 song. Two courts favored the Isley Brothers, forcing Bolton to pay royalties for current and future use.

The New York Times newspaper headquarters
Jayson Blair resigned from The New York Times in May 2003 after editors discovered instances of plagiarism and falsification in his articles.

Jayson Blair
Blair was on track to a stellar journalistic career. He was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, interned at The New York Times and then became a full-time writer for that respected paper. In 2003, an editor at The Times noticed similarities between an article Blair had written and one in the San Antonino Express-News. An investigation into his past work found many instances of plagiarism or fabrication in Blair's work. Blair has not worked in journalism since.

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed
How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life is a Y.A. novel by Indian-American writer Kaavya Viswanathan

Kaavya Viswanathan
Viswanathan signed a two-book deal with a considerable advanceall before her first year at Harvard. Her book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, became a best seller, climbing to 32 on the bestseller lists. In 2006, the Harvard Crimson published an article noting the similarities between Viswanathan's book and two by Megan McCafferty. Viswanathan apologized, saying she was a fan of McCafferty and the copying was unintentional. Other similarities were found in books by Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot. Viswanathan's book deal was rescinded and all copies of How Opal... were pulled from bookshelves.

Maureen B. Dowd (born Jan. 1952) is an American columnist for The New York Times and a best-selling author.

Maureen Dowd
Dowd has been a columnist for The New York Times since 1995, often blending pop culture and politics to skewer those in power. In 2009, a Talking Points Memo blogger accused Dowd of copying a paragraph from another TPM article from a week earlier. Since it was a minor incident, it might have passed quickly; however, Dowd harshly alleged Joe Biden of plagiarism 20 years earlier. She apologized, was publicly reprimanded and remains a writer at The Times.

Both new and well-known authors and artists have been caught copying and pasting words from other people. If the offense is minor and an apology is quick, a writer can often bounce back. However, plagiarism can be the death knell of a promising literary career, making the risk far greater than the reward.

I welcome your comments, corrections, or updates.

Brian Scott

Check out my Squidoo Lens, Free Online Plagiarism Checkers, a collection of tools that will help you to avoid plagiarism in your articles and academic papers.