It’s called “plagiarism” — the practice of stealing the words or music or other creative strokes by clever folks who rightfully originate and own such inventions.
After all, some people are sneaky and will deliberately merge their work with someone else’s property, hoping not to get caught.
A few truly ignorant people aren’t fully aware of the precise laws against snatching other people’s goods. For instance, if you are Willie Nelson and you wrote a song called “Crazy,” you would be crazy to let some bozo play your masterpiece for free.
Sometimes it is difficult to sort blatant thieves from the naïve and ethically clumsy souls. That ethical sorting has been on display this past week at the Republican national convention, where speakers and speech writers sort of accidentally plagiarized the words of First Lady Michelle Obama.
Somehow, Melania Trump found herself with a script that had been borrowed in part from an earlier script that had been written years ago for a speech by the first lady.
Apparently there was some snafu on the part of Melania’s speech-writing team. All Melania knew was that the team had given her some pretty words to recite.
I tilt toward the innocence of the potential first lady of the land, the foreign fashion model who is married to Donald Trump, who is the Republican candidate for president of the United States.
I don’t doubt that she, a model, could have been sincerely confused by legal expectations of her lawyer husband and of her staff of speech writers.
I’m on her side. Years ago in my high school, an English teacher took me aside one day after class, accusing me of plagiarism on the grounds that a kid my age couldn’t possibly have written an essay so dazzling. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or riled.
After catching my breath, I was riled and hurt and embarrassed. The teacher’s accusation might have been accurate if I had been accused of playing at 129 pounds on the high school football team. Fortunately, I knew my way around the English language at a tender age, even if I do say so myself.
And the football coach would have been an idiot to let me anywhere near the team.
Finally, the English teacher read my mood and my truthfulness. I may have become a bit of a teacher that day — at least when it came to helping her realize not to underestimate a kid.
My wife had a similar experience early in her life, when she was a college freshman English student. The professor said before the other students: “You couldn’t have written this. You must have gotten it from CliffsNotes.” Sharon had to ask a friend what a CliffsNote was.
Some years later, I encountered the flip side of learning not to accuse a student of plagiarism unless it was an absolutely open-and-shut case.
I had been assigning essays to my students. One day, as I was grading the papers, a stunning essay fell into my hands. The student’s work was terrific. Yes, I considered the possibility that the paper might be something familiar.
I tried to recall that style of writing. That was before the Internet — the amazing new sorting machine that could enter a beautiful sentence or paragraph and search for a match. Once you get that, you have a chance of finding the original author.
However, if you can’t prove that student guilty, be he untruthful or be he honest, shut your piehole and move on with your life. You can’t spend all your days asking students, “Are you a cheater?”
But wasn’t it sweet of Donald Trump’s wife to give Barack Obama’s wife a few tips on how to give a great speech?
Columnist Bill Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, Idaho 83501.