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

  1. 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.

    1. Well, I suppose you’re right about the fanfics. However, there are still quite a few authors out there complaining about the issue. Of course, pursuing the issue might be another matter entirely.

  2. 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 I laughed on how the creatures there were rip offs from the modern ‘Clash Of The Titans’ movie. It made us cringe further when they featured the movie tv ads with testimonies from people who just watched it. Enrile was one, I remember. And he just came out of the cinema stating… “world class”. Hahaha! Yep. Junjun Binay’s line isn’t original with that tidbit.

    I’m aware that there are talented filipinos out there who can still work out something original. Be it in the arts, crafts, fashion etc. It would be nice if more Filipinos can be taught, inspired and be recognized for original works and such.

    1. Look, I write fiction during my free time and I can admit to the fact that a lot of my characters and themes resemble those from other works. However, I just want to try and understand the essence of what an “original” work is and avoid being labeled a “copycat”.

      1. Quite a question you have there, Grimwald. Hmmm. Marvel’s Quicksilver suddenly comes to mind. Though DC’s ‘The Flash’ and him share similar powers (though powers sourced differently, as one is a mutant and one taps into the Speed Force), I guess ‘originality’ comes into play when the writer, director or person who presents the character comes up with something new or unfamiliar to the viewer’s imagination. Bryan Singer has his (20th Century Fox) version of Quicksilver in X-Men’s Days of Future Past. The unfamiliar comic book character and actor who played it was very well received. Singer’s presentation of the character had something different or unique apparently. Marvel studios also has their own version of Quicksilver in the upcoming Avengers 2 and I’m sure that studio would do their best on their own take and not have their character be associated to the X-Men’s version. Interesting thing to this is, some people are now curious as to which production studio would do the best version of Quicksilver. Most may not even think about plagiarism anymore, since the focus there now is on which studio would come up with the most unique or perhaps even most original approach to the character? Perhaps it’s about….doing or putting something new to something old, as they say.

        Unfortunately, it seems more apparent that ‘inspirations’ attained here in the Philippines is all just for money making purposes. Producers can afford to be lazy most of the time or wouldn’t even be bothered in coming up with something original. There may be a few tweaks here and there but most of the final results or material would end up in typical or predictable fashion. There may not be anything new for the imagination but Philippine media knows that the masses would just welcome the mediocre offerings presented to them.

        1. Well, since you mentioned some of the above, I think I’m going to tell you about what I’m working on so you can judge for yourself whether I’m ripping off an existing work or if you can consider my current piece an original work.

          The story is quite long but it mostly focuses on seven anti-heroines who have the Seven Deadly Sins theme. You know, Pride, Sloth, Anger etc.. Anyway, there’s one character I’m worried about because she might look too much like a ripoff of another character.

          Okay, enter Morrigan Aensland (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrigan_Aensland). I have always liked the character and I considered making someone similar for my story.

          Similarities:
          -They share the same hairstyle and color.
          -They are both associated with Lust.
          -They are both associated with bats.
          -They are both distinctly Scottish although my character also has a little more French in her.
          -They are both bisexual but my character leans towards being quite depraved.

          Dissimilarities:
          -My character has blue eyes that are a contrast to Morrigan’s.
          -My character’s Scottish accent is somewhat thicker and borders on being brogue and she also speaks some gracious French from time to time.
          -My character can also fly but prefers not to for personal reasons.
          -My character is much more perverted and shares more similarities to Dragonball’s Roshhi, Naruto’s Jiraiya and How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson.
          -She is a depraved (but somewhat benevolent) bisexual but prefers schoolgirls and usually just sticks to watching them from a distance and taking pictures of them or stealing their undies.
          -In temperament, she is a lot like Marvel Comics’ Deadpool in terms of utter silliness and antics.
          -She also shares some of Deadpool’s powers, being able to regenerate quickly from injuries faster than her sisters can.
          -As a weapon of choice, she uses a length of chain that she wraps around her arms to make deadly knuckles.
          -Her unique power is conjuring a magical mist that can either drain the life of her enemies or heal her allies.
          -She also shares similarities with the infamous Hentai Kamen and can double her formidable powers by wearing undies on her head.
          -When on-duty, she wears the standard attire for all her sisters: Black MIB style suits with mini-skirts and grey trench coats to lend them a John Constantine look.

        2. I am reminded of Captain Barbell, which, contrary to popular (pinoy) belief, is not a clone of Superman. He is a Shazam (aka DC’s Captain Marvel) rip-off. From the skinny, different looking kid alter ego to the superpowers.

      2. It really gave me laughter (especially on the Hentai Kamen aspect) and smiles when I read the detailed descriptions of the character that you’re working on. It is because I imagined on how fun and entertaining the character would be. It does present some similarities to Morrigan Aenslaed alright but it was the points on dissimilarities that got the most of my imagination and amusement. I am familiar with that (shoto clone) succubus character from the capcom video game and she’s also a favourite fictional hottie of mine.

        So as my initial impression goes, the dissimilarities of your character really caught my mind and imagination. Perhaps you can emphasize those more when you initially present your character to your audiences. And because of the dissimilarities, I wasn’t already thinking of Morrigan as I read through to the latter part of your comment. Though it cannot be avoided that some people may be reminded that she’s inspired or ripped off from Morrigan Aenslaed, but with the way your version’s character, personality or demeanour is, it still has the potential of being a unique or original character of its own. I guess it’s all on how you’d be presenting it. Subjecting the character to unique scenarios or circumstances should help also. My former secondary school English Literature teacher taught me that, the unofficial definition of a story is… it is always about problems. No problem, no story. The problem can either be solved or it cannot be solved.

        So even if there are Quicksilver or Morrigan variants or ripoffss out there, your work can still be original depending on how you subject that character to ‘problems’ that uniquely comes from your own mind. We saw what kind of ‘problems’ Bryan Singer put his Quicksilver version into and how the fictional character overcame them. The approach seemed new or original for most.

    1. 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 dawn zulueta.

      Because they were all so badly made I think deleon’s work is parody. I see no difference between them and Saturday night live skits.

      Finally, I would end with a request for an in depth pop culture study on these parody films of the nineties and eighties. At the very least it would be a fun read.

      1. 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).

  3. 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.

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