What Is Plagiarism?

This is not a political post, merely a question.

In this brohaha over Barack Obama and Deval Patrick using the same lines in speeches the following question has come to mind: what is plagiarism?

I’m asking this because Earlham has a well thought out explanation of what plagiarism is and I’m wondering if speech fits into it? Would what Obama and Patrick are “accused” of doing be considered plagiarism in any academic environment?


3 thoughts on “What Is Plagiarism?

  1. Kim, I’m not sure I’ve followed the news closely enough to be sure. I get the impression that Obama used words of Patrick without attributing them to Patrick, but that Patrick had given him permission to use them. This would not be plagarism in an academic environment, presuming that it is a few words in a speech, not a substantial use and not in a printed form. It would, however, be poor practice: scholars would much prefer that when using another’s words, you cite them directly. If Patrick actively encouraged Obama to use Patrick’s own words (possibly during assistance with speech writing) then no real malfeasance has occured. But again, I don’t know all the details, I could be missing something here.

  2. I read a bit more on this today. Looks like Patrick didn’t give Obama permission beforehand, and that he wasn’t a speech adviser: rather, Patrick and Obama have the same adviser, and he’s been writing some of the same stuff for both men. So it isn’t that Obama stole from Patrick, but perhaps that he used the same lines written originally for another politician by the same speechwriter. And, though it doesn’t count in the issue of plagiarism, Patrick had no problem with the incident when it was later brought to his attention. This doesn’t strike me as especially dastardly. Obama is a politician, he’s sure to have plenty of skeletons in his closet, and if people keep throwing enough muck at him some of it will eventually stick. But I don’t think it’ll be this incident, it just doesn’t strike me as outright objectionable.

  3. If a politician using a speech writer is similar to a student paying someone to write his/her term papers, perhaps we could call all politicians who use speech writers to be plagiarists.

    I’ve never seen a politician give the actual author of the speech credit for the words that he/she says — imagine the honesty if a politician were to begin a speech by saying “these words are not mine — I paid Peggy Noonan (or some other famous writer) to write them for me.”

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