The dangers of plagiarism are some of the most important lessons that media creators can ever learn. As defined by Merriam Webster, “plagiarism” is the act of stealing or appropriating another person’s work and labeling it as one’s own creation. This definition applies universally to songwriters, researchers, movie directors, and all other creatively-minded individuals. While plagiarism is rarely condoned in any sphere, the academic community in particular takes a very dim view of stealing another’s work and often enacts harsh punishments including expulsion or, at times, criminal prosecution.
In the creative community, however, there are often products or creations that resemble the work of other artists but are not exact copies. One such product is the parody, defined as a piece of creative work that imitates another in order to comment on it in some way, usually in a mocking manner. This branch of media first emerged in ancient Greece and is credited to Hegemon of Thasos, a writer of comedies who altered certain words in well-known epic poems to evoke a humorous effect. Hegemon also created the parodia, or “counter-song,” a type of poem that imitated the epic poems of writers such as Homer but discoursed instead on satirical or ridiculous topics and figures.
Several famous examples of parodies can be found in literature, music, and even film. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” parodies Britain’s treatment and political views of the Irish. The singer Weird Al Yankovic often creates stylistic and lyrical parodies of musicians’ songs such as “Livin’ in the Fridge” as a mockery of “Livin’ on the Edge” by Aerosmith. Mel Brooks and the Monty Python group are famous for their film parodies of the “Star Wars” trilogy (“Spaceballs”) and the King Arthur legends (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”).
Two important aspects to keep in mind when comparing plagiarism to parody are ownership and imitation. In the instance of plagiarism, one artist has taken the work of another artist and written his own name on it, thus attempting to pass someone else’s work as his own. The two works are identical except when considering who “owns” them. In the instance of parody, one artist has created a product based on another artist’s work but has ridiculed or commented on aspects of it in such a way as to make both creations separate products. The parody imitates the original but does not copy it exactly.