Homages, Fanfics, Parodies and Ripoffs: Defining Plagiarism

This is not meant to be a critical article but one that begs the question of just what is originality and why so much media in the Philippines is often branded “unoriginal”. I mean, just what does it mean to be “original” in this day and age and why does it have to be an issue with so many people. This is less of an article and more of a long-winded question.

1950s comic book cover featuring Filipino superhero Darna
1950s comic book cover featuring Filipino superhero Darna
They say that there is nothing really “original” in any work of this day and age. Everything is just a byproduct of an already existing work somewhere else. There is some truth to this after all such as the Roman pantheon being an almost blatant copy of the Greek pantheon and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings being based on Norse Mythology’s Rings of the Nibelung. No work of fiction (or even non-fiction if “repetitive history” is to be taken into account) is ever without the influences of an already existing work. But where does the division of a decent work and blatant plagiarism begin? To answer that, let us first discuss the different ways works are recycled in various forms:

Homage: Homages are sometimes called “tributes” in some circles. They are essentially respectful copies that glorify a similar work. A good example of this would be H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwhich Horror which is a tribute to Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan and the film Pacific Rim which is supposed to be a homage to the mecha anime genre and kaiju (giant monster) films. In almost all examples of homages, the author openly acknowledges the work he or she was inspired by and cites them as an important factor in the creation of their work.

Fanfic: A fanfic is essentially a story or any kind of work that uses the elements of another existing work. These often border into and qualify as plagiarism and a lot of them cannot be distributed legally. An example of this would be when you take the characters and setting of Star Wars or Harry Potter and make a story of your own about them. Japanese doujinshi (self-publishing) which are comics or manga based on an existing work (and often stray into being pornographic) are another well-known example of fanfic.

Parody: A parody is a work that makes fun of another work. It is almost always intended to be comedy, dark or otherwise. Common examples include Bored of the Rings which is based on Lord of the Rings and Spaceballs which is based on Star Wars. At times it will be meant to be offensive in order to ridicule a work although there will be those that show a certain amount of respect for a work which make it an affectionate parody. An example of a more offensive form of parody is the Scary Movie film series which  bashes the more illogical aspects of horror films. As for more affectionate parodies, there are the films made by Mel Brooks which include memorable comedies such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Ripoff: The ripoff is probably the odd man out as it has no exact definition and is more or less a label fans give a certain work instead of something that is made from the get-go. I doubt author wants his or her work to be called a “rip-off”. Ripoffs usually begin as one of the three mentioned above but, perhaps due to lack of imagination on the creator’s part or executive meddling, are labeled as “ripoffs”.

In some previous articles, it has been discussed that Filipinos have a blatant lack of originality. This is somewhat true based on some of my observations and there are quite a lot of lamentable examples out there in the Philippine media. But again, I will have to note that no work of today is without influence of another. As an example of a more successful form of “inspired” work, I will cite the film Event Horizon which was originally meant to capture the feel of the Alien film franchise but went on to become a work of its own when it added supernatural elements into the mix, making it a more original work. And then there’s the Marvel Comics character Deadpool who was originally just an alternate company equivalent of DC Comics’ Deathstroke but then Marvel decided to throw in some insanity into the former, making him the loud-mouthed and annoying psychotic mercenary we all know and love.

So, this begs the question, just what does it mean to make something “original” in this day and age? Is it with how a character appears or behaves? Is it about the setting and plot of the story? Or is it a mix of all of these.

For instance, the idea whether or not Mars Ravelo’s Darna is a ripoff of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman remains a hotly debated topic until today. Now Darna is different from Wonder Woman, at least in terms of her costume design and the origin story of her powers, but many insist that she is just a copy and paste version of the DC Comics character. Every superhero, especially the ones that come out today, have a bit of another superhero in them. One can note Dark Horse’s Spawn being at least similar in design to Spider-Man and Venom. But then there are characters like Gagamboy who can be called a shallow parody of Spider-Man despite being visually different from the latter.

So my question, dear readers, is how do you define originality with our media in the Philippines today? When can an “inspired” work sill be called original and when should it be called out as plagiarism? Most of all though, how do Filipino viewers tell them apart and how do they manage to overlook even blatant examples of copyright infringement (examples include the already mentioned Gagamboy as well as abominations like Magic Combat and another film that is a ripoff of Dragonball with a Goku-like protagonist in it)? Do the creators of these films/comics/TV series even care about the quality or the originality of their works? Does the audience care? Or, is it, at the end of it all, just about making money and ideas like “it’s not really illegal” and “nobody will notice anyway” take prevalence as said by Fallen Angel in a previous article?

A word of thanks to tvtropes.org  for providing with thoughts and ideas on the subject…

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Post Author: Grimwald

I came that you may know PAIN and have it in abundance…

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14 Comments on "Homages, Fanfics, Parodies and Ripoffs: Defining Plagiarism"

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Felicity Merriman
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I’m no lawyer but I personally view fanfics as at most in a legal gray area rather than outright plagiarism. Some did frown upon the use of their works, but others like J.K. Rowling were OK with it as long as it doesn’t tarnish the works in question. Besides that and game developers allowing fans to build upon IPs (e.g. Microsoft’s guidelines on Halo fan works) there’s the First Amendment and fair use clauses that cover them as commentary.

darkhorse
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Another wonderful and entertaining article, Grimwald. I had suspicions that you’d be a geek or a nerd as I noticed Lord of the Rings (Eye of Sauron, Mordor, etc.) references in your other write ups. This one definitely confirms that you are! ^_^ It is true with what you stated that pinoys lack originality and would just resort to plagiarism or ‘revivals’ (which is already sickening in regards to songs) Or perhaps it’s just sheer laziness to come up with new or original material. Remember when that Bong Revilla ‘Panday’ movie trailer was being promoted on tv? My brother and… Read more »
T
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if you were too young to remember this,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alyas_Batman_en_Robin
it was so horrid dc never even considered suing (according to an old late-90’s issue of wizard i once read)

triple r
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Plagiarism or parody or homage or new work? Blame Warhol. Really though this comment is made in homage to old Joey deleon films. Looking back these things were unbelievably crass and ahead of their time. The same toilet humor would emerge in later US films like there’s something about Mary. I especially remember one Joey d classic, a parody on gangster movies where all the mobsters were flaming gays. Avant garde. A sample of the lines in that film include Eddie Garcia playing gay face and one of his minions asking….bakit “Don” ang tawag sa yo?…Eddie replies… kasi ako si… Read more »
T
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Yes, analysis article please. from starzan to she-man to kabayo kids to super 123. All parodies by account (as the titles are puns on the original franchises).

What set the batman en robin apart was that nothing was changed – it was borderline copyright infringement. Well, the rest of the world did it anyway though back then. Some legally (Japanese spider-man) some still without permission (Dariya Dil).

OnesimusUnbound
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I’m neither a lawyer nor do I know Philippine intellectual property law, though I’ve search on clarification on how a fictional character is protected.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/protecting-fictional-characters-under-copyright-law.html

TL; DR
Fictional characters can be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive. And how “sufficiently unique and distinctive” the fictional character is will be decided in the court.