Bioethics Blogs

Plagiarism: It is a Big Deal

by Nanette Elster, JD, MPH

Election season is in full swing, with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next week. In an effort to get things off on a bright note, Melania Trump gave a speech on the first day of the GOP convention praising her husband. Citizens want a sense of who Donald Trump is as a father, husband, and citizen, not a sense of someone else. Unfortunately, that was what viewers were treated to when Mrs. Trump, though poised and sincere, delivered a speech that not only echoed the sentiments of Michelle Obama talking about her husband, but actually used First Lady Obama’s words, verbatim. In academia, we have a word for that . . . it is called plagiarism. According to the Harvard Guide to Using Sources, “it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a Web site without clear authorship, a Web site that sells academic papers, or any other person: Taking credit for anyone else’s work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident.”

The Trump campaign, however, initially resisted criticism that Melania and/or her speech writer(s) lifted the words of another author without proper attribution. According to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, accusations that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama are not accurate and she just used “common words” to talk about issues that are important to her like “family values.” His response reflects a growing popular sentiment that plagiarism is somehow not a big deal.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.