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Thief! Famous Cases of Plagiarism Plaguing Popular Culture

Legends speak of divine creatures known as the Muses that were the incarnations of literature, science, and the arts in Greek mythology. Their modus operandi was, according to the lore, to kiss the artist on the forehead to give him (or her) ideas. Or, as Serendipity said in Kevin Smith’s famous comedy Dogma, “I can take anyone I meet and give a zillion and nine ideas a second, but I can’t keep any for myself.” But what happens when an artist reaches out to the muse of another artist? Well, the action so artistically described above is known as “plagiarism” in the industry, and it’s generally frowned upon. This didn’t stop some artists from resorting to it from time to time.


Stolen songs

Claims of plagiarism show up quite often in the music industry. Songwriters and record companies have sued quite often in the past after discovering their intellectual property unlawfully used in successful songs. Some of the most famous cases of proven plagiarism involved Joe Satriani and Coldplay (settled outside court), Bee Gees and Ronald Steele (the trial ended in favor of the disco band), The Beatles and Chuck Berry (John Lennon admitted it) or even Jacques Loussier and Eminem (the parties settled the case among them).


Stolen movies (What?)

When it comes to movies, plagiarism seems out of the question – yet, it happens. Most of the times, it’s screenwriters claiming their work was used by studios without proper credit (and without paying them a cent). A recent case involved The Martian, Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece based on a novel by Andy Weir. Fox, the company behind the movie, was sued by Russian screenwriter Mikhail Raskhodnikov. Apparently, Raskhodnikov sent Fox (and several other studios) a script titled “Marsianin”, along with some visual materials, to which he didn’t get a response, but he claims that the studio has used at least some of his ideas when shooting the movie. His script has turned into a movie eventually – Forsaken tells the story of Chapayev, an astronaut stranded on a distant planet where he encounters something inexplicable.

Sometimes, the stealing of ideas is proven: this is the case of The Terminator, inspired by a short story by Harlan Ellison without him being given credit; Inception, that used a bit too many elements of Satoshi Kon’s anime masterpiece Paprika; and going as far back as to Albin Grau’s horror movie Nosferatu, based almost entirely on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


Stolen jokes

Being funny is not as easy as it may sound. Some people can’t think of a line that would make people smirk, while others only need to open their mouths and funny stuff starts to pour out immediately. Unfortunately, stand-up comedy is often not protected by copyright laws so, unless the jokes and one-liners are written down before being told, or the performance recorded live, their inventors can’t claim their ownership.

Still, plagiarism scandals do break out around comedians. One of the most recent involved Amy Schumer, whom several comedians accused of stealing their jokes and posting them on social media. This time, courts were not involved – but the damage the scandal has done to the fame and cred of the comedian was not a small feat.

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