Nic Pizzolatto’s “Homage” to Ligotti: Right and Wrong vs. the Law and the Courts

As expected, some commenters agreed with my article/interview with Jon Padgett yesterday, and some disagreed.  Some saw it as obvious that Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized Thomas Ligotti, others didn’t.

Well, when you compare phrase after phrase, it does seem obvious.  But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.  What I found particularly interesting were the folks who wrote, in so many words, that it wouldn’t stand up in court, therefore it wasn’t wrong.

Those people are missing the point.

I have no idea whether it would stand up in court.  Frankly, I don’t care.  What I do care about is right and wrong.  And I care about how writers treat other writers.

What Pizzolatto did was wrong. He didn’t come up with those phrases and ideas on his own — he admitted that, when he was forced to do so.  What Pizzolatto did that was worse than paraphrasing Ligotti’s words was refusing to acknowledge Ligotti for those words.

He could have acknowledged Ligotti any number of times — he didn’t. He only did it when an interviewer cornered him with evidence that he lifted directly from Ligotti’s book. He could have given Ligotti the credit on the DVD commentary — he didn’t.  (Which completely negates his “I can’t talk about Ligotti until the series is over” excuse.)

Pizzolatto seems to want the TV-viewing public to think that he came up with those phrases and ideas.

The right thing to do would have been to credit Ligotti for them. And the right thing doesn’t always have anything to do the law.

I’m not a frequenter of Thomas Ligotti Online, and though I enjoy Ligotti’s work, I’ve discovered it relatively recently.  I’m not doing this because I am defending him — that’s just a by-product.  I wrote that article because if we allow Nic Pizzolatto to get away with pawning off those key Cohle statements as his own, then where does it end?  Is it now okay for any writer to do the same?  Is it now alright for any writer to read another author’s book, find some phrases that he likes, then move a word here and there and pass it off as his own?

That’s what I want to help prevent.

Nic Pizzolatto may or may not have done anything illegal.  But what he did was certainly wrong.  He went too far.  It’s one thing to borrow someone’s ideas.  It’s quite another thing to borrow someone’s ideas and their phrasing, their words, and to acknowledge that writer only when one is forced to do so.

Does he really deserve an Emmy for that?

(Below: video compares key phrases)

21 responses to “Nic Pizzolatto’s “Homage” to Ligotti: Right and Wrong vs. the Law and the Courts

  1. Pingback: True Detective HBO Series: Plagiarism or Fair Use? | Paula Cappa·

  2. I’m sorry, the whole this was a homage thing is bunk. When you do an homage, you lavish praise on the person you are homaging (is that a word?) You don’t try and hide it from the world, grudgingly admit it, and barely mention it.

    Is this just part of the game? Maybe. Is it wrong? Seems like it. But was this an homage that some people have misinterpreted? Hardly.


  3. Well, I live in Brazil and I don’t know enough of the American Right for say if what Pizzolatto did is illegal. By brazilian Law undoubtedly it is. But, I agree that the central point it is a moral point. What Pizzolatto did is wrong, there is no excuses for plagiarism.


  4. I don’t see where the basic storyline of True Detective is Ligotti’s. I do agree that the motivation of the character Cohle seems to be almost pure Ligotti. He should have referenced Ligotti and giving him credit for his ideas creating the character of Cohle and the mood of the entire show.


    • “Has Pizzolatto been asked or allowed to respond to all this by us here?”

      I’m wondering the same thing.


  5. I’ve been reading a biography of William S. Burroughs… “William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible”… and it describes how Burroughs appropriated characters and sometimes whole passages from other authors’ books, in creating new works of his own. He didn’t acknowledge his sources when he did this. Isn’t that, in essence, what’s happening here? Its not like Pizzolatto made a documentary about the pointlessness of existence that was modeled on Ligotti’s book, at most he cribbed from it and several others’ work to create something new. I perhaps have more of a music producers point of view – I make music and appreciate that sampling can be a viable way to take sounds and then use them to create totally new works – and in this case, I feel Pizzolatto’s work is greater than the sum of it’s parts. As Picasso said, good artists copy, great artists steal.


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