Last night at the Republican National Convention, Melania Trump, wife of presumptive nominee Donald Trump, gave a speech that bore an uncanny resemblance, as critics almost immediately pointed out, to a speech given by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when her husband was the presumptive nominee.
Today on MSNBC, the Trump campaign’s national co-chair, Sam Clovis, mentioned a bit of software that would have prevented the whole debacle:
“I’ll tell ya, I’m a college professor, and I use TurnItIn.com all the time … That’s a software that allows you to check out different things.”
Or, as Recode’s own Ina Fried put it:
night one of the RNC, brought to you by https://t.co/IJBX1fFdzh— Ina Fried (@inafried) July 19, 2016
Clovis, who lost an Iowa senate race last year, was at one point the chairman of the economics and business administration department at Morningside College, though he is not currently listed on that school’s site.
TurnItIn is a subscription service currently in use, the company says, at 12,000 educational institutions around the globe. Founded by Berkeley neuroscientists in the late 1990s, the service compares text against web content, previous submissions, and scholarly journals and magazines to generate an “originality report.” The report highlights text that matches another source.
As it happens, TurnItIn ran one of its reports on Mrs. Trump’s speech and found several types of plagiarism.
In this type of plagiarism, the exact same words appear in both the original and the copy. TurnItIn found 23 identical words when comparing the two speeches. Despite the Trump campaign’s claim that Mrs. Trump simply used “common words and values,” TurnItIn calculates the likelihood of this coincidence as a “one in one trillion chance.”
Another type of appropriation studied by the company concerns text that “retains the content or meaning” of someone else’s work — for instance, if a paragraph only changes a few words. The company was able to provide an image of the close match between a section of the two speeches:
In the end, said company spokesperson Chris Harrick, “This happens infrequently, because [political] teams are made up of professionals who should know better, as opposed to kids who are under a time crunch and a tremendous amount of pressure.”
But the company’s statement urges an additional takeaway from this debacle. “As a teachable moment, the question of whether Melania Trump’s speech exhibits plagiarism or not is not as helpful as looking at this controversy as an object lesson on how to avoid plagiarism.”
Sure, we’ll go with that.
Just for giggles, we ran the full text of Mrs. Trump’s speech through another site, Grammarly.com, which found “significant plagiarism.” But it costs $30/month to get a more detailed report that would explain exactly what that means and where the similarities are drawn from. Maybe the Trump campaign was short on cash.
Meanwhile, the free sites were useless, because they apparently compare against existing websites and, of course, the full text of Mrs. Trump’s speech is all over the web.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.