Hillary Clinton is Right.

Posted by Tejus Parikh on February 29, 2008

Before the Wisconsin primaries, Hillary Clinton accused Senator Obama of plagiarism. Obama’s response was that the words were used with permission and encouragement from the original source, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. In other words, Obama had a license to use the words as he saw fit. Then I realized that that simply cleared Obama of copyright infringement, not plagiarism. Hillary Clinton was right after all.

Or would be right if we were talking about Professors Clinton and Obama instead of Senators Clinton and Obama. The very nature of plagiarism relates to academia and informative works. The section of Obama’s speech in question was strictly rhetorical. Obama wasn’t taking credit for advancements made by Patrick, nor ideas, nor policies, nor anything else of an informational nature. He was using a speech idea, with license to do so.

The difference here is subtle, but significant. Most politicians employ speechwriters, however they never prefix their speeches with “As my speechwriter wrote….” Jay Leno doesn’t write all of his own jokes, David Copperfield doesn’t create all of his own tricks, but both pass these works off as their own. And when was the last time a character in a TV series uttered “Luke, I am your father” and followed it up with “(The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas, 1980).”

Plagiarism isn’t even a criminal offense. Which means that unless you are in a field that exists for the purpose of disseminating factual information, such as academic research or journalism, it doesn’t even apply. Toss the fact that Obama had full license to use the work and it becomes clear that Hillary wasn’t right after all. Imagine that.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: