Borrowed thoughts: Some of the world's (in)famous 'plagiarists'


Posted at Apr 05 2010 03:16 PM | Updated as of Apr 09 2010 12:10 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Before prominent businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan caught the ire of a number of Filipinos for delivering a speech that "plagiarized" from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and J. K. Rowling, several well-known figures have already been accused of using another person's thoughts as their own.

Dr. John P. Lesko, a professor at Saginaw Valley State University in the United States, has long waged a serious war against plagiarism, which he defined as a "theft" of words and ideas.

His website,, is devoted to exposing cases of plagiarism involving prominent figures in the fields of politics, entertainment, literature, journalism, science and medicine, theology and religion, history, and academia.

"I wondered just a short time before beginning this work on Famous Plagiarists. 'Where could one find an easily accessible list of plagiarists and the profiles of their crimes?' I realized then that no such resource had yet been published," Lesko said in his website.

"It only goes to show that even the best authors -- including some of the most (in)famous writers, politicians, scientists, civil rights activists, science fiction authors, theologians, musicians, historians, and even international terrorists -- are not above stealing the words and ideas of others," he added.

Here are some famous people in their respective industries that have been caught borrowing other people's ideas without the proper attribution, as featured in Lesko's website.

He made it clear, however, that these people remain "alleged plagiarists" since the allegations were only made by others in popular media.

Joseph Biden Jr.

The vice president of the United States was said to have a "history of plagiarism," which allegedly started when he was a student at the Syracuse University Law School. revealed that Biden failed his legal methods course for allegedly copying a research paper without the proper attribution.

As he ascended the political ladder, the website said Biden's political opponents circulated a so-called "attack video" which showed his "outright plagiarism" of a speech delivered by British politician Neil Kinnock.

Osama bin Laden

Shortly after the September 11 (9/11) attacks by Al-Qaeda upon the United States in 2001, Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden invoked poetic language to "celebrate his success" by recording videos of himself and releasing them to the public.

After the release of the 2 videotapes, however, Jordanian poet Yusuf Abu Hilalah accused bin Laden of copying his poem and making several minor changes on it.

Here are excerpts from Abu Hilalah's and bin Laden's poems, as shown in

From Abu Hilalah's Poems in the Time of Oppression:

The fighter's winds blew
Striking their monuments, telling
The assailant that
"The swords will not be thrown down
until you free our lands"

Here's part of the poem recited by bin Laden in the Pentagon videotapes:

The fighter's winds blew,
Striking their towers, telling
The assailant that
"We will not stop our raids
until you free our lands"

Michael Bolton revealed that the 9th Circuit Court upheld its original $5.4-million judgment against this singer-songwriter for allegedly lifting parts of the Isley Brothers' Love is a Wonderful Thing to use in his own 1991 hit of the same title.

The amount was considered the "largest damages award ever made in connection with a music plagiarism case."

Some 10 million copies of the album in question was said to have been sold by Bolton worldwide.

Dan Brown

Parts of this popular thriller fiction author's work, The Da Vinci Code, were allegedly lifted from similar bestsellers entitled The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, which were published 20 years earlier.

Authors of the said books sought damages from Brown for "lifting the whole architecture of their work," said. The case is still under review.

Michael Jackson

In the early 90s, the "King of Pop" was accused of lifting from Albano Carrisi's song, The Swans of Balaka, for his hit single Will You Be There.

The Court of Appeals of Milan has earlier found Jackson guilty of the plagiarism charges, but was eventually reversed after an appeal made by the singer-songwriter's lawyers in 1997.


Another pop icon whose name got tangled in a plagiarism controversy is Madonna, who was sued in a Belgian court for using Salvatore Acquaviva's song Ma Vie Fout Le Camp in her hit single Frozen without using the proper acknowledgement. shared that Acquaviva prevailed in court, resulting in an order to halt the sales of Madonna's Ray of Light album, where the song in question is included.

In another allegation, the website revealed that Madonna was said to have copied ideas from French photographer Guy Bourdin in her music video Hollywood. The pop icon settled out of court with Bourdin's son, which amounted to $638,000.

Martin Luther King Jr.

This icon of the American Civil Rights Movement allegedly plagiarized in many of his college papers, including his doctoral dissertation, as well as a number of speeches he delivered in the course of his political career, revealed.

King's alleged plagiarism broke out in several British and American newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal. But since these discoveries were made after his death, King was unable to face the allegations. -- Karen Flores,