Is Melania Trump’s Speech Considered Plagiarism? The Definition Is Pretty Broad
Melania Trump, former model and current wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, normally shies away from the political spotlight. But on Monday night, she made a rare and monumental exception to her rule, delivering the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. While her performance initially garnered praise, some are now calling Melania Trump’s speech plagiarism, after it was discovered that two full paragraphs of it are nearly identical to a portion of a speech that Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
The Trump campaign's senior communications adviser, Jason Miller, issued the following statement, via USA Today: "In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking. Melania's immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such success." In response to the allegations of plagiarism, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told CNN, "To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd." Regardless of the "inspiration," however, no one can deny that a large portion of Trump's speech matched Obama's nearly word for word.
For comparison, Obama's 2008 speech reads, in part:
And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them.
And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
And Trump's speech:
From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives.
That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
Not exactly the same, but close enough that people took notice. But does that still count as plagiarism? Plagiarism.org defines the act as "copying words or ideas from someone else" (emphasis mine). The site also states that "changing words but copying the sentence structure" is considered plagiarism. While Trump's speech would absolutely fit that criteria if intent could be proven, it's not impossible that it's all just a 100-plus word coincidence.
Plagiarism itself isn't a crime, unless it constitutes copyright infringement, and a speech can be copyrighted, but isn't automatic. So it looks like nobody's going to court for Trump's speech, which she claims she wrote with "little help." RNC Chair Reince Priebus told the press on Tuesday morning that he'd "probably" fire whomever was responsible for the speech.
And Obama wasn't even the only person whose words Trump was accused of borrowing, although in the other case, it wasn't two entire paragraphs. While arguing that her husband was the best choice to "fight" for America, Trump said, "He will never, ever give up, and most importantly, he will never, ever let you down." It's almost like it's 2008 all over again.