Friday, March 4, 2011

The line betwixt inspiration and plagiarism

I've always found that my writing is more inspired by the music I listen to than the books I enjoy. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, my writing is coded with references to innumerable heavy metal bands that I heart. I actually rarely listen to music while I'm writing, so it isn't that lyrics are seeping into my work; and, in fact, I never use lyrics, since I feel this would be direct plagiarism. However, I often utilize the titles of songs and albums - namely those that form, for me, powerful images - to draw inspiration and flavour for my work.

My latest short, "The Hell Patrol" - which I hope to turn into some sort of serial - is such an example, being directly inspired - in its feeling, though not in its content - by the Judas Priest song of the same name. A quick search also turns up a zombie apocalypse movie called The Hell Patrol.

Apparently, the Pantera fan club is also known
as the "Hell Patrol."
So... is this "fair use?" There are many instances where I do something similar; but in large part it is only due to the fact that music makes my spine shiver, and the words associated with some songs become so powerful that their use in my own work just makes me... happy. For example, if I refer to "seasons in the abyss" in a piece of writing, it is a direct tribute to the Slayer tune. But to readers, it may not be. The question, then, is whether that is a fair thing for me to do. I'm capitalizing on someone else's brilliance.

Again, this is something I do all the time, and not malicious; and I don't dip into lyrics because, in effect, I'm already quite certain that would be unfair to the composers. But before I start getting all big-headed, is this something I ought to stop? Despite the fact that my stories have nothing - and I do mean nothing - to do with the songs in question, they still draw colour from those tunes. And, can I really say they are "nothing" alike? I mean, my "Hell Patrol" is still about "The Hell Patrol," whatever the contents of that august company of soldiers might be, and no matter how different it is from the same patrol represented in Judas Priest's music.

In literature, allusions are quite common; and it may be that I am only worried because, in the digital age, there is so much hullabaloo about copyrights and fair use. But I don't allude to other people's writing; I allude to other people's music. And since the boundaries between these works is immense (whereas referring to one fantasy world in another fantasy world might draw a sort of smiling appreciation, insofar as fans/readers might enjoy both series and, as such, diminish the "hidden" aspect of the allusion), I worry that I am carrying off with something and making it my own a bit too much.

What do you think, O Internet? Please, save me from myself...


1 comment:

  1. Don't worry about it, as long as it ain't fanfic