I am a writer. I make my living with my words. I am also a keynote speaker and workshop leader, so I make my living with spoken words, as well as written ones. It hurts me -- and it hurts all writers -- when you take words that aren't yours and present them to others as original. It is plagiarism. It is stealing. It is both unethical and illegal.
It is not just students and journalists who are prohibited from stealing others' words and presenting them as their own -- the copyright laws cover all of us, not just a few. As the wife of a presidential candidate, you are not above the law. If you take my words and use them on your website, in an OpEd piece, in a book - or in a speech - you are stealing from me. How can I -- how can any writer -- make a living if you to simply take our words without payment or credit and use them as your own?
Would you take someone's song and put your name on it, presenting it as your original creation? Would you take an artist's painting, paint your name over theirs, and claim it as your own? Of course not. Everyone knows that's stealing. And everyone knows that lifting segments of someone's speech verbatim and representing it as your own is also stealing.
Speeches are not in a different category than written pieces. Your campaign staffers' defensive denials of wrong-doing are fooling no one. As Shakespeare would say, "Methinks thou doth protest too much." You're a smart woman -- you know better.
In my own speeches, I quote sources all the time, so I can tell you it's quite easy to credit others whose words you use. For example, I might say: "Ken Blanchard, my favorite management expert, says that 'Feedback is the breakfast of champions.'" Then I elaborate on the concept in my speech. Or, "Leadership guru Warren Bennis says that 'Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing.'" And then I expound on what Bennis' words mean for my audience. If I'm citing a publication I would say, "A recent article in the Wall Street Journal said that ..." then elaborate with my own analysis and comments.
In the case of your speech, you easily could have said, "As another First Lady, Michelle Obama, said ... " then quote the excerpt you want to use, followed by your own elaboration on the quote. See? Not hard at all. It's really quite simple and easy to cite sources.
It is common courtesy to give credit where credit is due. It is the honorable, ethical thing to do. And it is the legal thing to do.
You made a dumb mistake lifting Michelle Obama's words from her 2008 speech -- why not just own up to it and say you're sorry? The American people are very forgiving when a leader makes a mistake and owns up to it. We move on quickly if authentic contrition is demonstrated.
Don't blame your speech writers. Every political leader has writers who produce hundreds of speeches for their bosses, and the vast majority of them don't plagiarize. Remember: it is the leader who sets the standard for her employees. It is up to you to let your speechwriters - and all your employees - know that unethical, illegal activity is unacceptable. If you sincerely aspire to be First Lady, Melania, you need to put on your Big Girl panties and own up to your mistake.
Finally, let us not forget what the Bible has to say: "In the beginning was the Word." Words are powerful. Words are sacred. Words are personal. Words express who we are. It is with our words that we create our world. It is never OK to steal words from those who wrote them and spoke them.
BJ Gallagher is the author of over 30 books, including "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women" (Conari Press)