Plagiarism Happens

Another accusation of high profile plagiarism emerged recently. This one involves the song Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. The group Spirit claims the Zeps took a riff from one of their songs and incorporated it into their classic. This alleged thievery occurred 40+ years ago, but has just now come to light.

A Facebook friend recently wondered how she could pitch a creative project to a prospect without fearing that the prospect might take the idea and use it as his own. Should she ask the prospect to sign a non-disclosure agreement or should she just reveal a small “teaser” bit of her plan?

I still believe that one of David Letterman’s more popular bits in the 80’s had its origin in writing samples I submitted to his head writer in 1983 when I lived in Philly. Was I upset when I saw it? No, I was flattered.

Even our most creative people may lift a good idea from time to time. Often, a person will “adapt” a concept, a structure, a logo, a joke, a musical riff, a slogan, even a font, in a way that’s not exactly plagiarism, but close to it.

A St. Louis columnist published a clever piece last year that had the exact same tone and similar content as a Joe Queenan piece that had run in the Wall Street Journal just a few weeks before. I have generally tried to give proper credit when, on my morning radio shows, I repeated a funny line that came from another source. I’ll admit, however, on many occasions, I did not.

In some situations, the stealing is more blatant. In the digital age, it can be easier. How many thoughtful blog posts have been directly copied and pasted from other blogs?

If your creative work is taken and used elsewhere, the important consideration, I believe, is were you damaged in any way? Did the use by another entity of material you created harm your reputation or make it harder for you to benefit financially from your creative work?

Plagiarism happens. If you feel you have been damaged, contact an Intellectual Property attorney for guidance about what to do next.








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