Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Plagiarism Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

In academia, plagiarism is one of the greatest sins.  Students who copy others' work without crediting it get failing grades.  Researchers who do that can lose their jobs.

Copyrights and trademarks in business are ways to fight stealing of others' ideas.

But everyone's creative work is influenced by one's environment.   Picasso is often quoted, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." (But The Quote Investigator shows there were many antecedents to that thought.)  And different people - as Twitter proves daily - can independently come up with the same thought.  I haven't googled the title of this post, but I'm guessing I'm not the first to come up with this idea today.*

Did Melania Trump plagiarize Michele Obama's 2008 speech?  Well, if I found a student's paper that had such close echoes in another document, I would have given her an F.  But that's the harsh rules of academia.  You can check the video showing the two candidates' wives side by side and decide for yourself.  But I think it's besides the point.

The Democrats aren't technically wrong in charging Melania with plagiarism.  But politically, they should have just said:  "She's copied Obama."  What greater sin could a Republican commit?

Of all the things that Trump has said and done in the last year, and the way the media has shone the spotlight on all his outrageousness,  this copying of Michele Obama's speech is really small potatoes.

Importantly, though, is that Trump's speech writers were stupid enough to so blatantly copy and think they could get away with it.  What does this foretell of the work that would be done in a Trump administration?   I think of students who were surprised that I figured out they had plagiarized.  In most cases,  the lifted portions are usually much better written than the surrounding text that the student wrote, and they stand out like a spaghetti stain on a white shirt to someone with any sense of writing style.  And a quick google search can locate the original.

But Democrats shouldn't be too smug here.  I'm sure that Republicans are busily searching for speeches they can use to show that Michele Obama's words came from somewhere else too.

*After writing that sentence I did check.  What I found on page one of google were several related items that said, "Plagiarism isn't the sincerest form of flattery."

Why plagiarism isn't flattery. (2011)
Why plagiarism isn't the sincerest form of flattery.  (2013)
Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.  (2012)

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