When Is It Plagiarism, When Is It Homage?



It’s a question that vexed me recently in these columns when we talked about the new TV series ‘Penny Dreadful’ and the very similar books of Kim Newman which long-preceded the series. All artists learn from one another and develop new strands out of the art they admire, others see a commercial main chance to use out-of-copyright material, but this piece of music struck me forcefully when I heard it. Here’s Krzysztof Komeda’s famous score for ‘Rosemary’s Baby’…

And here’s Alexander Desplat’s score for ‘La Fille Du Puisatier’ which he wrote recently.


Of course Danny Elfman did exactly the same thing with his Nino Rota score homage for ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’, and there are countless other examples, so what does it take to turn a loving homage into an act of thievery? I’ve been quite noticeably copied a few times in the past, but have always adopted a sanguine attitude to such things, generally treating them as marks of respect. And I most certainly homaged Edmund Crispin’s ‘The Moving Toyshop’ in ‘The Victoria Vanishes’, as I’ve always openly stated. Even though the story itself is vastly different, I don’t feel that mine could have been written without my love of Crispin’s book.

If we follow Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots’, all we can do is change tone and character before repeating the past. And perhaps, inevitably, as we age, everything reminds us of something else.




5 comments on “When Is It Plagiarism, When Is It Homage?”

  1. Andrew Green says:

    As the late tv writer Malcolm Hulke once said all you need is an original idea…it doesn’t have to be YOUR original idea.

  2. J. Folgard says:

    I’m currently enjoying ‘Penny Dreadful’, I think it lives up to its name -it’s gratuitously trashy but still fun, they even allow for some humor, it’s refreshing.
    I read and watch so much genre entertainement, I couldn’t count how many times I stumbled upon fictional Nicolas Tesla or Victor Frankenstein or Doctor Dee, and plots or settings that sometimes feel a bit derivative or recycled… At the bottom line, there are two things I care about: the “atmosphere” of the piece, and wether or not the writer made me care about his/her characters to see the story through its end. The rest is building blocks arranged in more or less original patterns, I just want the patterns to hook me.But it must be a tricky problem for any writer for sure!

  3. snowy says:

    Err… when you get caught, and when you don’t?

  4. Ian Mason says:

    “If we follow Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots’,”

    Which is essentailly a lift from Kurt Vonnegut’s “The Shapes of Stories”. You knew that, didn’t you Mr. Fowler?

  5. John says:

    Just to play Devil’s Advocate I can hear strains of Erik Satie’s well known “Gymnopedie” series in the Rosemary’s Baby theme. Sometimes it’s just coincidental and not plagiarism. Anyone who has a wide range of tastes in all of the fine arts can always find analogies and similarities in contemporary work.

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