They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This then begs the question of when does flattery cross the line into outright theft? It’s the difference between paying homage to someone’s work and simply taking someone’s work. Is it the intention to acknowledge, even implicitly, the source of the material, or is obfuscation more the goal? The former suggests homage while the latter is indicative of plagiarism.
As intentions are the determining factor, it becomes relatively easy to determine if what you are creating crosses the line into outright theft.
As anyone who has ever watched more than a couple of television shows is aware, the borrowing and retooling of ideas is a staple of the entertainment industry. Creatively speaking, artists typically stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. Noted filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, has made the homage a central part of his repertoire. What makes Tarantino successful, in this regard, is his obvious acknowledgement of the original source.
By comparison, Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars” drew directly from an earlier work without attributing credit. The 1961 film, “Yojimbo,” by Akira Kurosawa, contained significant character and plot references that were subsequently used in Leone’s 1964 effort. Those usages resulted in a lawsuit that rewarded the plaintiff, Kurosawa, with a monetary judgment.
Plagiarism is intellectual theft. As it is most often practiced, in academia, plagiarism is typically used to fill up two of the five pages that had been assigned by the professor. Students know when they are doing this and that awareness is what constitutes plagiarism. The use of material without any intention of acknowledgment is the key to knowing if plagiarism has occurred.
Creativity takes many guises. Recognizing that “truly” original ideas are extremely rare, borrowing material, which has been created by artists that you respect, is what defines the practice of homage. Surreptitiously lifting passages with the intention of passing it off as your own, however, is another matter.
Your best indicator is how you feel when it is over. Are you proud of your accomplishment or are you fearful of getting caught in your deception? These should be your guidelines in determining what constitutes plagiarism or homage.