Top 10 Celebrity Plagiarism Stories

Famous people get caught plagiarizing just like students in universities and your every day worker. Just as it is a serious crime that can get you expelled from your college, plagiarism leaves an ugly stain on the reputation of celebrities as well. People like Melania Trump, Beyoncé, Joe Biden and even Martin Luther King Jr., have been accused of copying other people’s work – though not all people are actually found guilty despite the claims. One of the most common places of plagiarism is within the music industry, where most recently, notable cases have appeared in the hands of Robin Thicke for Blurred Lines (featuring Pharrell Williams and TI), Coldplay vs Joe Satriani for Viva La Vida and many more. Melania Trump as accused of copying part of Michelle Obama’s speech, and even the great James Cameron was accused of plagiarism for his motion picture epic, Avatar.
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All work and no play can make a celebrity plagiarize away. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Celebrity Plagiarism Stories.

For this list, we’re focusing on celebrities that got caught up in a downward spiral of one or more plagiarism scandals.

#10: Melania Trump’s Scripted SNAFU

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Melania Trump gave an impassioned speech on behalf of her controversial husband. But it didn’t take long for people to pick up on the similarities between Mrs. Trump’s address and Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Despite Melania’s stoic demeanor and poised delivery, the phrasing of familial themes highlighted a clear case of plagiarism. A few days later, Meredith McIver offered her resignation for writing the speech, yet Donald Trump refused to let her go. Meanwhile, the Internet questioned McIver’s very existence.

#9: Beyoncé’s Love of Belgian Choreography

In terms of dance, there’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. And for an R&B and pop icon like Beyoncé, she typically inspires other artists. But after the release of her 2011 music video for “Countdown”, a Belgian dance choreographer named Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker accused Beyoncé of plagiarism. When viewing the productions of each artist side by side, the dance and visual aesthetics are extremely similar. But once De Keersmaeker voiced her displeasure, Beyoncé acknowledged that the work that “inspired” her, as had other sources, like Audrey Hepburn’s 1957 film “Funny Face.”

#8: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Plagiarized Doctoral Dissertation

Without a doubt, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential figures in American history. But in 1991 - 23 years after King’s assassination - it was reported that King had applied some “faulty citation practices” during his years of higher education at Boston University. In fact, a panel at Boston University concluded that King indeed plagiarized other works in his doctoral dissertation entitled “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillichand Henry Nelson Wieman.” Though Clayborne Carson of Stanford University has noted a “pattern” of plagiarism in King’s works and speeches, he also believed that King had likely “acted unintentionally.”

#7: Helen Keller’s Burst of Inspiration

Helen Keller is a prominent name in the field of education. But 13 years before she became the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, she published a short story, “The Frost King,” that raised a few eyebrows. Soon after it was published, accusations of plagiarism arose when similarities between Keller’s story and “Frost Fairies” by Margaret Canby were noticed. From there, it became a matter of whether Keller had knowingly re-worked a story that had been read to her. New details continued to emerge throughout the 20th century, with some pointing a finger towards Sophia Hopkins, who was a mentor to one of Keller’s teachers Anne Sullivan, and others maintaining that Sullivan herself was behind the plagiarism all along.

#6: Jane Goodall’s Chaotic Method of Wikipedia Note Taking

In the field of chimpanzee research, Jane Goodall has an extensive resume, and some serious pop-culture cred. But while she may know a thing or two about chimps, her understanding of proper citations is apparently lacking. Goodall and co-author Gail Hudson turned to the Interweb while researching the 2013 book “Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants,” but it later turned out that a description of botanist John Bartram had actually been copied from Wikipedia, and text had been lifted from the Choice Teas website, a company that contributes to the Jane Goodall Institute. While Goodall has blamed her “chaotic method of note-taking” for the un-cited text, the end result still amounts to plagiarism.

#5: Joe Biden’s Admiration for Famous Orators

Much like how Martin Luther King Jr. took creative liberties during his collegiate years, so did America’s 47th Vice President. But according to Joe Biden, it’s all “much ado about nothing.” However, we’ll let you be the judge, because he didn’t just plagiarize a few passages here and there while in law school at Syracuse; he used a full five pages without attribution, according to a faculty report. Of course, this is something that would naturally come up during a Presidential run, and sure enough, Biden’s past of plagiarism threw a major wrench in his 1988 campaign. Joe’s been known to build on historical speeches, even invoking J.F.K. without giving him a shout-out. In the long run, however, the accusations haven’t seemed to hurt Biden much at all.

#4: Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines

In 2013, the music video for “Blurred Lines” became a viral sensation and the song reached #1 in 25 countries. But there were more than a few people who could have sworn they had heard it before that year. Although Robin Thicke openly admitted to channeling inspiration from soul legend Marvin Gaye, no formal credit was granted. The lack of attribution may not have been a malicious move, but even so, the subsequent legal battle didn’t come as a surprise to many. On March 10, 2015, Robin Thicke and co-writer Pharrell Williams were forced to pay up 7.4 million dollars to Marvin Gaye’s family. On the musical sound alike scale, this Thicke v. Gaye issue lands somewhere between the “kind of sounds the same” 2008 Joe Satriani v. Coldplay case and the “let’s just change the lyrics” Chuck Berry v. The Beach Boys controversy over 1963’s “Surfin’ USA”.

#3: Carlos Mencia’s Joke Piracy

For comedians, authenticity is everything. But in the mid-2000s, fellow comic Joe Rogan accused Carlos Mencia of stealing jokes from multiple comedians. And a couple of years later, an encounter at Hollywood’s famous “Comedy Store” led to a heated conversation on ethics between the two. Like many comics, Mencia has paid his dues in the business, as noted by Marc Maron in his WTF with Marc Maron podcast. But the fact remains that Mencia has been accused of plagiarizing more than one comedian, ranging from a recognized figure like Bill Cosby to lesser-known names. While Rogan took a direct approach to confronting Mencia, Louis C.K. used his own television show for a conversation on plagiarism with fellow comic Dane Cook.

#2: James Cameron’s Epic ‘Avatar’ Accusations

To be fair, a mere accusation of plagiarism doesn’t always mean it’s true. For James Cameron, a man known for his large-scale epics, many plagiarism cases against him have been dismissed over the years, dating back to 1984’s “The Terminator.” However, with the release of “Avatar” in 2009, a number of people questioned Cameron’s idea of intellectual property, as the narrative of “Avatar” bears a striking resemblance to the 1957 novellete “Call Me Joe,” which features a disabled protagonist that clashes with an intergalactic culture. In fact, there have been multiple documented cases of plagiarism surrounding Cameron’s film, and the accusations only seem to keep growing with each passing year.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Paul Thomas Anderson’s Collegiate Experiment with David Mamet
- T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land

#1: Shia LaBeouf’s Plagiarism Art

In 2013, the Internet quickly called out actor Shia LaBeouf when his short film “Howard Cantour.com” appeared to lift material from the Dan Clowes comic “Justin M. Damiano.” Yet, Shia claimed he got “lost in the creative process,” and that was the reason for the accidental plagiarism. Surprisingly, his tweeted apology was also in the news for being plagiarized... from Yahoo! Answers of all places. This essentially spawned numerous cases of public performance art by LaBeouf, leading the public to question his motives even further. Things only got worse for the actor in June 2015, when a video emerged of him performing a purported “freestyle” rap resulted in a rap collective known as the Anomolies calling him out for similarities to their 1999 track, “Perfectionist.”

Do you agree with our list? Which case of celebrity plagiarism surprises you the most? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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