Plagiarism is one of the most frowned upon acts in the writing community. Entire careers have been ruined as a result of it, but that still hasn’t deterred others from doing the same. And although some may have gotten away with it, the old saying “what’s done in the dark, will always come out in the light” exists for a reason. Here are five examples of writers whose best works were blatantly stolen from other authors.
1. Alex Haley
Roots, published in 1976 by Alex Haley, was one the most acclaimed novels at the time of its release. But it didn’t take long for Haley to be hit with two lawsuits: one by a well-respected female author who claimed he stole much of her work (he won) and then by Harold Courlander who alleged that Haley plagiarized his fictional novel “The African.” The lawsuit dragged on for weeks and ended with Haley settling the suit with Courlander for an undisclosed amount. Both these lawsuits and other similar incidents permanently damaged Haley’s reputation.
2. Cristiane Serruya
In 2019, it was discovered that Brazilaian romance novelist Cristiane Serruya’s bestseller was riddled with other people’s work, word-for-word. It was Courtney Milan who first discovered the theft after spotting her own work. She quickly posted it on her blog which drew the attention of other writers who also accused Serruya of stealing from them. Rather than deny the plagiarism, she threw her ghostwriter under the bus, alleging that they were to blame, not her. The accusations must’ve been true because she quickly shut down both her website and Twitter account.
3. William Lauder
William Lauder’s story is one of the earliest and most embarrassing cases of plagiarism. Dissatisfied with the lack of public recognition, the classical scholar for the Edinburgh University hatched an elaborate plan to improve his reputation. He wrote a series of essays to prove that John Milton’s Paradise Lost was plagiarized and filled with stolen quotations. But the “evidence” he provided was downright false and he even inserted lines from Paradise Lost into the Latin translations of older works. The fraud was quickly detected and Lauder was shunned so badly that he ditched academia and became a shopkeeper in the West Indies.
4. Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose was a highly respected historian, most noted for his autobiographies of U.S. President Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But when another historian accused him of plagiarizing his work, Ambrose claimed he had failed to add quotation marks and gave the writer his credit. This incident sent Forbes magazine writers down a rabbit hole where they discovered that Ambrose had failed to acknowledge the work of several other writers. When questioned, Ambrose made zero effort to apologize and instead, created excuses to justify his actions. It is also believed that his autobiography of Dwight D. Eisenhower was fabricated as the former president was nowhere near the location of the supposed interview Ambrose claimed he was at.
5. Jill Abramson
In a twist of irony, Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, was accused of plagiarism despite her writing a book that criticized low-quality journalism and the lack of credibility. Abramson initially insisted that she did not steal anyone’s work and her publishers joined her defense, saying that the book was “meticulously sourced” but they were still willing to make revisions if necessary. Eventually she conceded and finally admitted to the mistake, blaming it on her poor note-taking skills and claiming that the entire ordeal was unintentional.
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