True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto accused of plagiarism


Oh, fuck Gawker. You can’t plagiarize ideas. If you could, Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn would all have been sued by the estate of Robert Johnson.


Plagiarism or not, it’s pretty obvious the guy making the accusation (who is not the same as the guy whose work was copied) doesn’t actually know what the word means. According to him, every reference made in The Simpsons or Family Guy would actually be intellectual property theft.


I discussed this with the two accusers on the Lovecraft eZine and after looking at their examples I cannot support their conclusions. They both weighed in on my blog:

In short, Pizzolatto created a Ligottian character who speaks in Ligottian prose. That’s not plagiarism. And when asked he copped to being an admirer of Ligotti and using his philosophy for Cohle’s character and dialog, so he’s not hiding anything. And until Ligotti weighs in (if he does) we have no way of knowing whether he sees this as an homage or theft. My guess is he’s probably happy with the new readership he gained via True Detective.


The show made it clear, intentionally or unintentionally, that Rust was just parroting the silly neo-nihilist tripe that was part of the atmosphere of the 90s. Now at least I can put a name on it. The only problem with lifting this kind of philosophy for a work of fiction is knowing who to blame. Granny Weatherwax would have been furious.


“Good artists copy; great artists steal” - Steve Jobs attributing this to Picasso who may never have said it, but the phrase was stolen from T. S. Eliot who stole it from W. H. Davenport Adams.


I’m going to be very disappointed if Ligotti responds with anything other than “this shit doesn’t matter.”

“Conspiracy Against the Human Race” is silly neo-nihilist tripe to steal Andy Hilmer’s phrase. Really hated that book.

So, we all spent hours reading and writing about how the show borrowed from a number of works. The idea that sharing some phrases with some of those books is plagarism is silly. Unless Thomas Ligotti had a Miniseries script that went missing this is a waste of time.

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Good something borrow, something something steal.


Yeah, it seems like they’re stretching things by pointing to similarities in dialog and collections of cherry-picked quotes. At best you can point to shared ideas, a few phrases and overlapping vocabulary, some of which wasn’t even particularly original to Ligotti. That’s… the nature of fiction.


Particularly when the work he is supposedly plagiarizing is non-fiction. I think you can have a fictional character recite similar ideas to a real world philosopher without them having to give credit. But I am not a literary lawyer. And Ligotti hasn’t spoken out on this, just his fanboys.

I still haven’t seen any episodes of True Detective, but Thomas Ligotti has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I just found this too, which seems to take a more realistic view:

(edited to add Slate link)

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen True Detective (no HBO). I am, however, familiar with the works being discussed as source materials pulled from in the show.

I think the Slate article makes a good point. Even before I read it, I had already thought of Tarantino, and pastiche. I’m a fan of Tarantino’s work, so I know that right from that start he made no bones about the fact that he was pulling from past work. He made it clear that his pastiches were being made because he himself was a fan, and he regularly discussed the people who were influences in his work by name. That’s right from the start. He wanted people to know what made him a fan.

The Slate article says that Pizzolatto is using materials (including obscure quotes) but not providing due credit - even just in interviews (but still says he’s not plagiarizing - which may not be right). He’s not behaving in the same manner that Tarantino did - which brought up a resurgence of interest in the original works. Pizzolatto may be fine with the original works remaining obscure while he takes credit for others’ skill.

A “pastiche” is only a really pastiche if people know that you’re referencing another work. That’s part of the joke. If you’re deliberately seeking obscure references, and then not letting people in on the joke - you’re just passing off someone else’s work as a unique idea. That’s plagiarism. If Pizzolatto is willing to talk about his use of others’ materials, I’m more likely to accept that he’s a fan who’s honoring them in his own work rather than simply making his job easier. In the article referenced by Slate, Pizzolatto ignores crediting both Moore and Ligotti in long answers that discuss how their work was used in concept (they never get mentioned). He had the opportunity to speak up, but chose not to do so.

So, anyway - for those who are wondering: You absolutely can plagiarize ideas. It’s defined as:

The act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind.

Plagiarism is related-to, but not the same as, “copyright” - so don’t get the two confused. It’s not a legal term on its own, but it can contribute to Intellectual Property or Copyright cases.

What you need to do to avoid plagiarism is just acknowledge your source. Don’t try to pass off someone else’s work as your own.

Especially when “Ligottian prose” is just a pastiche of Lovecraft’s, after all.

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Everything is a remix. (Except for the preceding sentence which I plagiarized. Give me another chance and I’ll do it again!)

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Interesting Fortean Times article about the suicide of reporter James Webb after he got caught up in the occult aspects of these ideas.

Yeah, well,… I actually went to and read “The King in Yellow.” So there!

The idea of “plagiarism” in fiction is problematic by itself. We have artistic traditions of pastiche, of homage, of quotation and reference (even of obscure sources), etc. This isn’t copyright violation. This isn’t even a writer presenting someone else’s ideas as their own, it’s a character talking about ideas. If the character was discussing relativity, no one would suggest the author was “plagiarizing” Einstein. Not just because we recognize who came up with the ideas, either - if it was a more obscure branch of physics being discussed, we still wouldn’t assume the author of the dialog was somehow asserting the work being discussed as their own. “Crediting” the inspiration is problematic, too - TV shows don’t have footnotes. I don’t think it’s reasonable to demand that the dialog be written in such a way as to have the characters give verbal equivalents of footnotes, either. So what’s left is for the writer to mention the influence - which he did.

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Hi Shuck - That character, and everything he says or does was written by the author (or by the person who the author quoted). It’s my understanding that in this case the writer has - on several occasions, and with multiple influences - ducked leading questions in interviews that gave him the opportunity to discuss what his sources for inspiration (and direct quoting) were.

I made a point in my own post of saying that plagiarism isn’t the same as copyright, so to write back saying, “This isn’t copyright violation.” kinda missed the point. They aren’t the same thing at all. Plagiarism is just the use of another person’s work (ideas, direct quotes, images, etc.) without giving them due credit. Pizzolatto is not making a good effort - in what is claimed to be a pastiche - to acknowledge the sources. He’s not even doing it when people give him the opportunity. They pretty much have to state it first, and then he just doesn’t deny it. That’s pretty far from giving another artist due credit.