Famous Plagiarists and Their Copycat Ideas

by Doug Quixote on May 26, 2011

In the creative world, we all know it’s hard to come up with a truly unique idea. That’s why it diminishes the credibility of someone’s work when we find out it was plagiarized. From writing book reports to creating Billboard chart-topping singles, dipping into someone else’s intellectual property will get you in deep trouble.

Just take a look at one of these famous plagiarists who found out the hard way what it means to take credit for someone else’s idea.

T.S. Eliot

TS Elliot

Widely known as one of the most celebrated English-language authors and poets of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot was once quoted saying, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." Eliot was a mature poet… and he stole a lot.

Experts agree Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land is a hodgepodge of relatively unknown writers and poets of the time (besides the occasional homage to Shakespeare). Most notably, Eliot ripped off a sizable chunk of an American poet named Madison Cawein, who wrote his own poem called Waste Land.

Eliot wasn’t exposed for decades after The Waste Land published, but nowadays academic scholars attack his legacy for a lack of originality. Respected poetry critic F. W. Bateson most notably wrote an essay called "T.S. Elliot: The Poetry of Pseudo-Learning."

James Cameron


Legendary filmmaker James Cameron claims he first thought up the idea of an unstoppable robot on a mission to kill while he was dreaming… or, so he thought. Writer Harlan Ellison says Cameron based the idea for The Terminator after two episodes Ellison wrote for The Outer Limits, which aired years before the screenplay.

It’s true that Cameron went on to film the highest grossing film of all time… twice. However, he still had to pay out Ellison, who won his Terminator plagiarism suit in court, which included a monetary compensation and an accreditation in the film.

Ray Parker Jr.

Ray Parker Jr.

Who ya gonna call… when you can’t think of a good melody? Apparently, Huey Lewis and the News.

In 1984, Parker’s hit song "Ghostbusters" reached #1 for three straight weeks on the Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, and was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Too bad the catchy tune Parker was banking on sounded eerily similar to the Huey Lewis song "I want a New Drug", which peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart six months earlier.

Parker and Lewis settled out of court in 1985, but the case was reopened 2001, when Parker sued Lewis for violating the contract which prevented either party from speaking about the agreement publicly. Lewis claimed that Parker agreed to pay a financial settlement in his 2001 VH1 Behind the Music special.

Both "Ghostbusters" and "I Want a New Drug" sound suspiciously similar to the 1979 M song "Pop Music," but it’s never gone to court.

Vanilla Ice

vanilla ice

If you sample Queen and David Bowie, it’s good form to give them credit. On the other hand, if you’re Vanilla Ice, you don’t give credit. You’re street. You add a ting and a tang to the funky beat to make it your own.

No lawsuit was filed, but Mr. Ice may have settled out of court with Queen and David Bowie.

By the way, if you’re Vanilla Ice, you also look like an imbecile.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Before Joe Biden became the 47th Vice President of the United States, he was a law student at Syracuse University. Apparently, Joe wasn’t the best student.

Before law school, Biden studied at the University of Delaware with a double major in history and political science, eventually graduating with a rank of 506 out of 688. In his first year at law school, Biden was accused of plagiarizing five pages of a 15 page law review. Biden was allowed to retake the course after receiving a failing grade (which was dropped from his transcripts) and later graduated from Syracuse.

Biden’s run-in with plagiarism was a major talking point during the 1988 presidential election, as many political pendants believe this lead to the Senator dropping out of the race. Good thing for Biden, it only took us 20 years to forgive and forget.

Adam Wheeler

Adam Wheeler

More infamous than famous, Adam Wheeler not only plagiarized all of his research papers during college, he faked his way past Harvard admissions and is accused of wrongly accepting thousands of dollars worth of scholarship funds.

Wheeler’s story unraveled in his senior year after he submitted his application for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, claiming he had earned perfect grades, authored several articles and books and even earned a perfect SAT score while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Turns out he didn’t have a perfect SAT score and MIT had never heard of him. When professors found the documents Wheeler had allegedly written, they all agreed he stole the content. Wheeler currently faces 20 charges, including forgery, identity fraud, and larceny.

Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair

Responsible for what the New York Times calls "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper," Jason Blair is synonymous with one of the most famous plagiarism and fabrication scandals in the last decade.

The former reporter started working with the New York Times as an intern in 1999. The Times claims he was later promoted to an "intermediate reporter" when staffers assumed Blair had graduated from college, even though the University of Maryland, College Park (Blair’s school at the time) claimed he still had over a year’s worth of coursework to complete.

As a reporter, Blair composed many questionable articles where he claimed to have traveled to interview subjects when the reality was Blair only conducted interviews over the phone. Blair was also accused of misquoting many of his interviews, fabricating story details and plagiarizing work from other reporters, including a former colleague at the San Antonio Express-News.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Doe September 18, 2011 at 8:23 am

Define “Irony”:

This article’s idea, and much of it’s content was pulled from a handful of articles previously posted on Cracked.com.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: