Plagiarism is the worst

Author Alex Haley wrote a novel called “Roots” in 1976 based on his families history going back to the days of slavery. The novel found a lot of success and even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977. The research and conclusions written in the novel were eventually called into question. A lawsuit was filled claiming 81 passages from “Roots” were copied from the novel “The African” by Harold Courlander. The story written by Haley would not have had the same effect and build up if the passages were removed or rewritten. Haley continuosly claimed he had to read “The African” before writing “Roots”. Later this claim was found to be false by the witness of minority studies teacher at Skidmore College. After five weeks of trial the two settled for a financial settlement and a statement by Alex Haley acknowledging and regretting that pieces of “The African” found their way into his novel.

From the common consensus on this issue, most would argue this was in fact plagiarism and Haley is at fault. I would be inclined to agree given the 81 passages common between the two novels. It seems like there are so many stories and written pieces out there these days, it is just a matter of time until your works is going to be similar to someone else’s work. This case specifically has the same wording, which makes it a solid example of plagiarism but the argument that the ideas and themes being similar shouldn’t give significant substance behind the plagiarism claim since this novel is a common theme you could find in many books written today.


Lescaze, Lee; Saperstein, Sandra (December 15, 1978). “Bethesda Author Settles Roots Suit”. The Washington Post. p. A1.

“The Roots of Alex Haley”. BBC Television Documentary. 1997.

Stanford, Phil (April 8, 1979). “Roots and Grafts on the Haley Story”. The Washington Star. p. F.4.


3 thoughts on “Plagiarism is the worst

  1. I loved the movie interpretation of Roots. So when I found out that it was pretty much plagiarized I was shocked and upset. I like you talked about how these days there’s a lot of that going on, it’s sort of harder to distinguish who started a certain type of story when they are all starting to sound the same but with Haley and those plagiarized citations from “The African” are pretty obvious.


  2. I agree with you. There are so many different novels that some are going to sound similar. I think some people take it to a new level when one sentience is similar, of course that is going to happen sooner or later.


  3. I agree that this seems like plagiarism. It’s very possible to have the same ideas or theme and still make an original work, but if significant parts are the same, it is likely plagiarized. There are so many of the same ideas going around that accidental plagiarism is inevitable, but it’s pretty obviously plagiarized when entire passages are almost the same.


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