With all the hullabaloo at the Republican National Convention this week over Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her speech, it raised several questions on the topic of plagiarism that #content marketing managers may be asking themselves these days.
We all remember those stern instructions by our high school teachers to do our own work, use our own words and “not to plagiarize.” But it’s probably been a minute (or several) since we last took an English class, and we may not even recall what it means to plagiarize.
In her article, “What Is Plagiarism? As Melania Trump Apparently Plagiarizes Michelle Obama, Here Is The Meaning, Maria Vultaggio of International Business Times asks this very question:
Here is how Dictionary.com defines plagiarism: “An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting.” It comes from the Latin word plagium, which means kidnapping.
There is also a plagiarism checker that writers can use. When part of Melania Trump’s speech was placed into the tool on Grammarly.com, the website concluded, “significant plagiarism was detected.”
We surely wouldn’t commit this dastardly deed, but there are many reasons others might be so inclined. Per Tom Popomaronis of Inc.com, there are 8 Psychological Reasons That Explain Why People Plagiarize and Steal (Including Melania Trump):
As Kenneth Goldsmith explains in The Case for Plagiarism, plagiarism has been highly necessary (and lucrative) in his job as a poet. And he proposes an interesting argument that calls for even more plagiarism:
In the cutthroat world of #politics, the type of admiration that Melania would’ve shown for Michelle by copying her whole speech verbatim would have been rare. Had she done the “full Michelle” instead of a mere 7%, I would have called her tribute downright refreshing. But because she didn’t cop to her plagiarism, we can’t indulge these fantasies. Instead, we’re once again back in the swampy waters of authenticity and originality.
Every time someone is caught plagiarizing, there’s the same dance of denial, cover-up, finger-pointing, shame, and apologies. In our cut-and-paste world, words, ideas, and artifacts are shared, remixed, spammed, swiped, attributed, misattributed, contextualized, recontextualized, and miscontextualized with the push of button.
In a sense, our words, our stories, and our images are no longer ours, nor can we expect them to be. As part of the great sea of shared culture, they are phished, scooped, reblogged, retweed, regrammed, and reposted ad infinitum.”
The short answer given in Minda Zetlin’s Inc. post, 6 Lessons From the Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal on How Not to Handle Public Scrutiny, is to not do what the Trumps do. But more specifically, if you or your company finds itself in the hot waters of alleged plagiarizing, she suggests:
Melania Trump had a pair of professional speechwriters who had worked for George W. Bush working for her and they sent her a draft of the speech a month in advance. She wasn’t happy with that draft, but the smart move would have been either to ask the original speechwriters to rewrite or to find different professional speechwriters to help her.
Instead, she decided to rewrite the speech herself, with the help of Meredith McIver, a ballerina turned writer who co-authored several books with Donald Trump.
Some of the most successful people and effective leaders the world has ever seen have offered up eloquent apologies when they were caught doing something wrong. (See if you can guess who said which apology.) But apologies appear to be completely off-limits in the in-your-face Trump campaign. Even when Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was caught on video manhandling a reporter, no one apologized. The Trump team went on the offensive, blaming the woman he shoved for having it in for Trump.
Various members of the Trump team have said: 1)Melania did not write the speech but was just reading what someone had written for her; 2) Melania had told NBC News before the speech that she wrote it herself; 3) That Hillary Clinton was attacking Melania as she does any woman who threatens her (maybe she does, but the plagiarism accusations did not come from the Clinton camp).