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HBO & Nic Pizzolatto Issue Official Statements Denying Plagiarism Charge Against ‘True Detective’

HBO & Nic Pizzolatto Issue Official Statements Denying Plagiarism Charge Against 'True Detective'

Earlier this week, the interwebs lit up when a detailed argument surfaced accusing “True Detective” creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto of plagiarizing significant portions of his scripts for the show. A piece over at the at The Lovecraft E-zine noted the startling similarities between dialogue from “True Detective” and portions of Thomas Ligotti‘s “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.” Other examples, including works by William S. Burroughs and Alan Moore, were brought to light as well. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before a response was issued from the HBO camp, and indeed it has arrived.

Both the network and Pizzolatto deny that “True Detective” was plagiarized, saying that conceptual and philosophical ideas are free for anyone to use. While that’s true, neither statement makes any mention of the specific passages in Ligotti’s work in particular (or mention him by name) that appear to have been appropriated (sometimes quite closely) for Pizzolatto’s scripts. You can read both statements in full below. Let us know what you think.

HBO Statement:
‘True Detective’ is a work of exceptional originality and the story, plot, characters and dialogue are that of Nic Pizzolatto.  Philosophical concepts are free for anyone to use, including writers of fiction, and there have been many such examples in the past.  Exploring and engaging with ideas and themes that philosophers and novelists have wrestled with over time is one of the show’s many strengths — we stand by the show, its writing and Nic Pizzolatto entirely.
Nic Pizzolatto Statement:
Nothing in the television show ‘True Detective’ was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenauer, Friedrich Nietzche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.

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this comment was removed in 2014, "maybe he should have ‘borrowed’ a better ending.


Yeah, no mention of Ligotti’s name even in the rebuff. I am sure you are not evading something here.

Terry Craig

This is nothing new. Good to know about it as I'm always glad to find where writers adapt some of their ideas from, but let's take an example all the way from 1759, about 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'; to quote Wikipedia:

"Sterne incorporated into Tristram Shandy many passages taken almost word for word from Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, Francis Bacon's Of Death, Rabelais and many more, and rearranged them to serve the new meaning intended in Tristram Shandy.
Tristram Shandy was highly praised for its originality, and nobody noticed until years after Sterne's death. The first to note them was physician and poet John Ferriar, who did not see them negatively and commented:

'If [the reader's] opinion of Sterne's learning and originality be lessened by the perusal, he must, at least, admire the dexterity and the good taste with which he has incorporated in his work so many passages, written with very different views by their respective authors.'"

The way I see it, Ferriar got it right and it can be applied here to Pizzolatto as well. (There's also an interesting tidbit in the article about how those who went on to defame the author were hostile to him for other reasons.)


The fundamental problem with this argument as fas as I can see is that, in philosophical literature, its simply the case that a wide variety of thinkers employ common images and jargon between them so as to establish a topical understanding before proceeding into what ideas they might want to contribute to the problem/project/work/etc. Examples off the top of my head: brain in a vat (mind/body dualism), beetle in a box (private language), the horizon (death), etc.

When these kinds of images become common, they enter into the jargon of philosophy. Being able to employ the image of the beetle in the box no longer is a plagiarism of Wittgenstein; it is an evocation of the philosophical parlance of epistemology. And any student of academic philosophy is required to move freely within his field's parlance so as to have an opportunity at contribution.

I haven't read the books accused of plagiarism here so I admit that there might be a legitimate sense to the accusations that speaks past what I'm talking about. But let's say Cohle says something that sounds like out of Ligotti. Well, Cohle has an interest in philosophical literature. If so, he's probably picked up on the way philosophy develops as a project via induction of images and phrases into its community of thinkers. His echoing of Ligotti then isn't plagarism – it looks more like actual philosophizing, considering most philosophers would agree the act of reading someone else's work is a form of actual philosophizing for the reader!

But this is my experience. Frankly. Cohle's philosophical digressions were interesting to me not because their content and poetry were revelations to me as a thinker, but because Matty's performance was convincing, in that most who pursue philosophy do it as response to loss. Acquiring the shared language of philosophy is to involve yourself in a community of people looking for a heightened truth in lieu of the more convenient truths that so often lead to betrayal of heart and mind.

Matty's performance was credible to that interpretation. He never mused over something that was actually intellectually impressive. However, his performance telegraphed to me his character's likeliness to understand himself that he reads and acts within the philosophical discipline as recourse to the loss of his family. Which is all to say that, in my view here, you can't plagiarize a performance.

Ann Hedonia

The parts that were plagiarized, which obviously were, are also my favorite parts of the show. I was kind of glad in an odd way to know where to read more, so I guess the revealing of source of the lines might in fact benefit readers, viewers, and Ligotti alike in the end by bringing his work to more people.

McCaughney delivered the lines so perfectly that he elevates "True Detective" to a level not seen in any other show, whatever their source. Similarly, the way Woody Harrelson's character serves to typify the cultural norm, becoming a sort wall off of which these ideas bounce , and in turn echo back at us. Their roles, the script, the directing, cinematography are equally vital to the successfully deliver of concepts which most don't dare to allow their minds to imagine much less feel. Thus, in a sense, becomes a perfect synthesis of the various a skills and minds of those involved in creating a synthesis of a crime drama, esoteric philosphical exploration on the background of hidden sub-culture, religion, and corruption so pervasive throughout the South. Presenting the nihilistic concepts in this format and in an entirely different genre/media becomes a gift to an audience yearning for something better.

Ligotti deserves credit where credits due. Snd he deserves royalties. Unfortunately, greed and narcissism that is the machine of Hollywood will never allow this to happen. In doing so, they would be admitting wrong, making themselves liable.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is rampant in every creative and commercial fields. Despite the creation of intellectual property laws, only the most wealthy and most litigious are willing or able to pursue. It is kind of hard to believe that with all the pervasive and obvious plagiarism that goes on in music, news, fine arts, photography, graphic design, etc. that plagiarism in writing is the only one that is taken seriously, and as such a royal offense placing a writer in publishing jail forever. Likely a hold over from the halls of academia, where honor was considered highest character trait essential to success.

Having had my work plagiarized many times in my field of work, there is no amount of forgiveness when being the the victim. Unfortunately, other forms of plagiarism are not acknowledged whatsoever. Half of the decent movies out of Hollywood turn out to be a direct copy of an obscure foreign film done a few years earlier, without acknowledgement or vilified whatsoever. It' s business- evidence of our capitalist culture successfully churning out it' version of survival-the-fittest.m

In essence, Palazzi messed and HBO dropped the ball, but I would also hate to see "True Detective" fail to rise to the same level in the next season(s). Ligotti should be a man, and at least admit that in retrospect Ligotti's words had become to assimilated into his subconscious that he hadn't realized that he was plagiarizing him. Let HBO off the hook by adding Ligotti to the credits, and keep making good programming.

While a quagmire and a quandary for sure, I have already been looking into Ligotti's work thanks to good journalism bringing everything to light. Guess, I just want my cake and to eat to it to. There is no honor among hungry viewers, like a thieving junky willing to buy from any disreputable dealer (Comcast included). Simulacrum at it's best.


I watched a few episodes, but besides enjoying Matthew McConaughey's performance, I wasn't impressed with the story itself. I was considering whether or not I should go back and finish watching it and these accusations surfaced. Now, I am positive I'm not going to watch it. I have no respect for plagiarizers and hope this doesn't just get swept under the rug.


God you all are idiots


Welcome to Awards Season

Mattie Appleyard

First, loved the show. Second, loved the writing. Third, some of the writing is absolutely plagiarized or paraphrased (I turned to my wife while watching the show and immediately told her about "that line comes from Burrough's"). Fourth, plagiarism is about sharing credit and, if appropriate, $$$$. These folks should share the $$$$ – trying to deny it is BS. If you read the sentences, they are exact or close. Still a great show and Nic should keep writing them.


Uh-oh…I read the passages on Lovecraft re the similarities between Cohle's philosophical disquisition and Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race" and they are just a little too close to be a mere coincidence.

Jim Treacher

Pizzolatto is just compounding his dishonesty. Of course ideas can't be plagiarized. But sentences can. That's what this is about.

John Peters

Much ado about nothing. Pizzolatto is an exceptional talent and the comparisons of what he's suspected of plagiarizing are almost laughable.

Drag Me To Taco Bell

I was half expecting the plagiarism claim to have been made by Michael Mann, being that the flashback scene from the second to last (I think) episode, where Woody Harrelson recounts a horrific experience involving a microwave, was lifted straight from "Heat" dialogue:

Vincent Hanna: Oh, I see, what I should do is, er, come home and say "Hi honey! Guess what? I walked into this house today, where this junkie asshole just fried his baby in a microwave, because it was crying too loud. So let me share that with you. Come on, let's share that, and in sharing it, we'll somehow, er, cathartically dispel all that heinous shit". Right?
Vincent Hanna: Wrong.

Max Awfuls

I was on the fence about continuing with True Detective after yesterday's big controversy. But these insulting statements have made me decide to quit. Does HBO and Nic Pizzolatto think we're fools? It may be legal, but how about acknowledge your sources? That would've gone a long way with me. These statements are unethical. And no one is saying True Detective has been "plagiarized," Mr. Pizzolatto. People have been accusing *you* of plagiarizING. Get your verb conjugations straight.

Jon Padgett

HBO and Pizzolatto need to reevaluate their argument against plagiarism.

Remember how highly the TD author speaks of Ligotti's book in the interview with Calia of the WSJ, "Writer Nic Pizzolatto on Thomas Ligotti and the Weird Secrets of ‘True Detective’?"

"I read 'The Conspiracy Against the Human Race' and found it incredibly powerful writing. For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster. In episode one [of 'True Detective'] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got."



nothing HBO or Pizzollato can say will refute the simple fact he ripped off Alan Moore and Ligotti. both writers should be acknowledged by the show somehow.

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