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.