The Dark Side of Unattributed Copying and the Ethical Implications of Plagiarism in the Legal Profession

BY Cooper J. Strickland

Plagiarism is an intriguing subject. Though support for this statement is not likely needed—it is undoubtedly common knowledge—a simple example puts this widely accepted opinion into context. In 1988, during the Democratic Party’s campaign for the presidential nomination, one of the candidates made the following statement in a speech before a gathering of the California Democratic Party: “ ‘Few of us have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can act to affect a small portion of events, and in the totality of these acts will be written the history of this generation.’ ” Even without the context the full speech would likely provide, this statement is evocative and inspiring. What listening voter would not be impacted by the speaker’s words? Well compare it to a portion of a speech given in June 1967 before an audience at Fordham University: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” By comparison, and without the benefit of acknowledgment, an inspired listener who later discovers the similarities between these two statements is entitled to feel duped by the plagiarizing speaker. Though plagiarism in politics is often viewed as par for the course, the unattributed borrowing of the original language from Robert F. Kennedy by Joseph Biden, along with other acts of plagiarism, likely played a role in the failure of Biden’s presidential nomination hopes in 1988.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 90 N.C. L. Rev.920 (2012)