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‘True Detective’ Creator/Writer Nic Pizzolatto Accused Of Plagiarism

'True Detective' Creator/Writer Nic Pizzolatto Accused Of Plagiarism

“The only honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing and march hand-in-hand into extinction,” the always cheerful Rust Cohle says in the memorable, meme-inspiring car conversation sequence from “True Detective.” That line and many others from the sequence are heavily indebted to the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti, in particular his book “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.” While series creator Nic Pizzolatto has cited Ligotti for his influence on the show, two horror scholars have alleged that he stepped over the line from homage to plagiarism.

A discussion is in progress over at The Lovecraft E-zine, involving the site’s Mike Davis and Thomas Ligotti Online founder Jon Padgett: the two are conversing over email about Pizzolatto’s use of Ligotti, and the latter makes a vigorous case that that the “True Detective” writer crossed an ethical line.

Providing many examples in which dialogue from the show was either paraphrased or lifted almost precisely from Ligotti’s work, Padgett contends the horror writer’s words are at the heart of what makes “True Detective” special. “The most egregious instance of Pizzolatto’s plagiarism involves some of the most captivating and most quoted of all the scenes from the series: namely, the car ride in episode one in which Rust Cohle outlines his pessimistic, anti-natalist worldview definitively and powerfull,” he contends. “It is a fact that (in that crucial, character-defining scene) almost every one of Rust’s infamous lines is either taken word for word or is a paraphrase of Ligotti’s distinctive prose and ideas from ‘The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.’ Bear in mind as well that this scene is the lynchpin of Cohle’s character – and it is the scene in which ‘True Detective’ goes from being just another cop buddy procedural to something different, something of exceeding interest to HBO’s audience and a credit to the writer who created Rustin Cohle.”

And Padgett doesn’t buy the argument that Pizzolatto was honoring Ligotti by citing his books. ” ‘Homage’ suggests that Pizzolatto was honoring Ligotti or showing him respect of some sort. Lifting Ligotti’s work without permission or attribution may have or may not have been a consciously malicious decision, but in any case it was neither honorable nor reverential,” he says.

Padgett also points out that Pizzolatto usually only talks about Ligotti when asked directly, and certainly doesn’t go out of his way to mention how much of an influence he was on the show. For Davis, this is a crucial sticking point. “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,” he wrote in a separate editorial.

But it doesn’t end there. Padgett also points to other instances where Pizzolatto seemingly borrowed from the works of other author. “I would add that the extent of Pizzolatto’s plagiarism problem goes a good bit further than his penchant for using Ligotti’s words and ideas. In episode five, for instance, Cohle explains that, ‘…death created time to grow the things that it would kill…’ Deep thoughts, care of William S. Burroughs’ obscure (and expensive to buy) collection ‘Ah Pook Is Here and Other Texts,’ in which Burroughs writes, ‘Death needs time for what it kills to grow in.’ If this is another example of what Pizzolatto considers an homage, why the rewording?” Padgett says. “Why not ‘signal [Burroughs] readers’ with a word for word quote? Even the late great Albert Einstein’s words are mined for dialogue material – specifically this quote: ‘If people are good only because they fear punishment… then we are a sorry lot indeed.’ Of course, Pizzolatto also ends the season’s finale with dialogue lifted from one of writer Alan Moore’s lesser known comic books. With ‘homages’ like these, who needs the theft of intellectual property? It makes one wonder how many more undiscovered ‘homages’ are to be found within these True Detective episodes.”

It’s a strong accusation, and there’s been no response yet from the reclusive Ligotti, Pizzolatto or HBO just yet. But we’re sure you’ll want to have your say, so hit the comments section below and be sure to read the full Davis/Padgett conversation here which details many of the instances of alleged plagiarism.

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Sorry, but the sentiment behind that Einstein quote has been expressed a million different times but a million different people, including myself when im halfway into a good bottle of bourbon. That’s hardly an original thought.


Some of these comments are totally off course. All writers take inspiration from other stories and sources, that is natural. However, I have NEVER quoted directly from another writer in anything I write – that is wrong. I do have a section where a character is paraphrasing a dead writer, but the characters directly says that he is paraphrasing this writer, and his name. I honestly think what Pizollato did is wrong. I think he could have used the same philosophy but put it in the character's own words, or at least have the character mention that he read Ligotti and shared some of his philsophies. That would have been okay as far as I'm concerned. I feel he was stealing another writer's brilliant words and taking credit for it because no one has read Ligotti.


I enjoyed the show, and was really blown away by some of Rust's dialogue. However, after reading the quotes from Ligotti and Rust's dialogue it's pretty obvious that a lot of it was closely reworded, which I would consider a form of plagiarism. I don't think using philosophies would be plagiarism, if they were put into the author's own words. Some of the quotes I read were almost word for word.

Mayan morning

Dude, don't you know enough to steal from dead people? They can't sue you.

False Detective

See GAWKER for the entire, awesome story entitled:
"Nic Pizzolatto's Plagiarism Denial Says Exactly Why He's A Schmuck"

"Some friends of mine who have been following this small controversy seem to believe that Pizzolatto is in the thrall of lawyers, is afraid to admit anything lest he be hit with a giant copyright suit by Ligotti. I think they are out to lunch on several levels, not least because Ligotti is apparently a recluse and I doubt whatever lawyer he can afford to hire seriously intimidates the likes of HBO.
I prefer to rely on a much simpler theory, based on the above evidence: Pizzolatto has a giant ego which, fed on the fat diet of praise True Detective received earlier this year, now rages over the countryside of his soul. He got a bit sloppy here and probably meant no real harm by it. But to abandon his Great Infallible Genius Narrative now would be a death blow to his own self-image, so he cannot give an inch to any kind of criticism."


There's an old Hollywood saying that there are only 15 ploys in the world and Moses brought ten of them down from Mt. Sinai. Artists reinvent the same ideas over and over and put their own spin on them. Unless you can show me direct quotes and scenes lifted from other sources, these charges against Pizzolatto are obscenely inaccurate and reflect far worse on the accusers.

Geoff Willis

Art/film is reflexive. Looking back on its self. Its not what you steal, its howyou steal it. Thats Godard, homie


It's an interesting debate. I don't know quite where I stand.

On one hand that anti-human nihilist phrasing is hardly original. The parts of the show I did enjoy reminded me so much of my obsessive phase of reading nihilistic philosophy; scattered across various authors, concepts, ideas and world-views.

I am highly skeptical that Ligotti invented all of those key phrases, and was not himself influenced by past literature, philosophers, etc. He had likely read someone like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche and drawn influence from their character and world views.

That said, some of those quote vs. quote comparisons are very similar. That is perhaps the only true measure of direct plagiarism.

On the Burroughs' line and others; it's certainly not wrong to quote others, or for characters to quote/paraphrase writers they might have read. The idea that Rust might have read Burroughs and really enjoyed that line is not particularly unbelievable. The Einstein quote similarly; I feel like many iterations of it have existed before and after Einstein.

I'm currently reading Borges. May I suggest anyone highly offended by 'plagiarism' never touch his work, nor T.S. Eliot's. Allusions and references are common place.

I would also hope that no one highly offended by this listen to popular music; the derivative nature of that industry represents a grave dug for any semblance of originality.

David Negrin

Google "­Something Borrowed" by Malcolm Gladwell — it's illuminating and addresses the spirit of derivative vs. transformative work, artistic influence vs. plagiarism, and is heartening when we find that other writers struggle with mixed feelings on this subject.


"The only honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing and march hand-in-hand into extinction," the always cheerful Rust Cohle says in the memorable, meme-inspiring car conversation sequence from "Seeing Things," the second episode of "True Detective." Ummmm no actually that quote comes from the 'pilot'(first) episode of the show about 16 minutes in, not the second episode, "Seeing Things". Seriously does anyone fact check anymore?


I don't know how to edit, below I meant to write "art is NOT created ex nihilo or entirely from scratch"


I don't think you guys should even be reporting on this. NONE OF THIS IS PLAGIARISM. It's the process of art. Art, of ANY KIND, whether it be painting, writing, film, etc. etc. is created ex nihilo or entirely from scratch. Good artists recast and revise tradition, devices, forms. It would be preposterous to accuse Fernand Leger for plagiarism because he repurposes the styles and devices of the cubists to his on cubist inspired pictures. He doesn't have to write in the painting, this volumetric shape is "from Picasso". Also, these lines from Einstein, or that horror writer are themselves paraphrases of many ideas already taken from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, the Stoics, folk psychology and others. Moreover, if Cohle was indeed quoting someone, he wouldn't say "As this horror writer I read said…blah blah blah." Having read Pizzolatto's first novel Gavelston, he takes many themes and ideas from his first work and repurposes them for TRUE DETECTIVE. As he should. These few lines here and there are furthermore injected into a larger plot that itself borrows from the harboiled tradition of detective and crime fiction which itself borrowed from earlier 30s crime fiction.Those idiotic critics should just go and write their own shows and stop needling around accusing people of plagiarism. THIS IS NOT PLAGIARISM. It's the way art is made. That is, by recasting and revising tradition and innovating on preexisting forms. This smear campaign is sheer idiocy and the author of this piece for Indiewire shouldn't even have reported it.


It appears, because Pizzolatto failed to credit any of the above writers, and in fact avoided talking about them, that his arrogance overcame good sense. Why not have Cohle ask Martin if he's ever read Ligotti? Instead, Pizzolatto risk charges of plagiarism. This isn't like copying shots from another film, or even a filmmaker's style. It's stealing another writer's sentences.


He did something very wrong in that industry and should have to answer for it and compensate. This is the kind of thing you get kicked out of college for, fired for as a writer, and even fined for legally. That being said it would have been awkward to cite every line in the series within the scenes. It should of been listed at the ending and in commentaries and a few other places. He actively tried to hide he was using other peoples work.

And to the people going OH IM A REAL PRO SCREENWRITER AND I'M MAD! Writing lines for an insignificant YouTube video or crap filmed in your garage doesn't make you professional. Unless you make a living doing it and only it, youre not a real pro anything. Calm yourself. Same for the people who are saying this isnt a big deal. It is a big deal, its one of the worst transgressions a writer can make.


"If people are good only because they fear punishment… then we are a sorry lot indeed"

So anyone whose expressed this idea is quoting einstein, who is the sole originator of this idea? give me a f*cking break.

I guess he was also plagiarizing Raymond Chandler too, since it was all a conspiracy that lead back to the rich guy, and every detective story writer since Raymond Chandler was also a plagiarist and nobody noticed.

johnny b

Seems like he borrowed the philosophy expressed by another writer, but he didn't steal plot details.

Also, if you enjoyed the show, do you really care? Even if all he's doing is assembling a story from the best parts of other stories, if they are exciting and compelling I don't really mind.

Nithin M

Heights of joblessness… Has he copied the storyline? Has he lifted the characters? No. He is obviously inspired like all filmmakers and writers are – This is a preposterous way to gain attention. Are these people jealous of the fact that he has been able to create such an amazing television show? You can start saying that most works of art are plagiarized (if that's the case)…


As far as I can tell this is something that just adds more to the character of Cohle. The guy's an obsessive and maybe as a young guy he stumbled across the work of Ligotti and due to that obsessive nature of his he is able to and regularly does quote his work verbatim since it applies to his own psychological virtues. The Alan Moore example though, of a conversation seemingly lifted wholesale and put in the True Detective universe, is a lot more damning and harder to refute.


Oh, and as a writer, I'm totally offended by the "this is what all artists do" hand-waving. No, it's not. Yes, all artists are inspired by other things they see, hear, read or encounter, but INSPIRATION is about taking an idea and putting your own spin on it. Plagiarism is taking the words of others' and trying to pass them off as your own – which is exactly what's happened here. This is a particularly lazy, blatant and direct version.


As far as I can tell, this is plagiarism. This is far more than just borrowing ideas/atmosphere – this is word choices and whole sentences. Even more damningly, NP seems to be refusing to acknowledge his own sources in an attempt to prolong the "mythos" and passing it off as part of his creative process ("I can't talk about Ligotti until the season is over"). He's trying not to acknowledge his inspirations while taking credit for it. Straight-up plagiarism.

Even though I love the show, I feel like it's getting a free ride on this immoral and irresponsible stuff because it's beloved by film/TV geeks (of which I am definitely one). 50 Shades of Grey (which is a terrible excuse of a novel, don't get me wrong) gets slammed all over the place as a Twilight fanfic, which it is. No matter how great True Detective is, plagiarism is always wrong, and this is plagiarism.


So what? the show is great, nobody denies that, and it constructs over and around the things it takes from its literary sources. Copyright is a recent and weird human invention and lots of times it doesn't make sense. True Detective might have been another show without these kind of direct evident references, and I actually like it how it is. Also, what makes the show special is far more complex than a case of intellectual robbery, there's enough showcase of talent and creativity from Pizzolatto to accuse him of being a hack. And if he wanted to use extracts from Ligotti's book did he have to hide and transform the words? Why? That's a lame thing to do, if Ligotti's text fits perfectly to the scene, the only reason to change it it's fear of the law, but not artistic integrity.


It is irresponsible to use such a sensationalist headline. This clearly isn't plagiarism, and IndieWire know that. In the current online climate people will just read the headline and take it as gospel, which tarnishes the work of a magnificent series (albeit with a disappointing ending).


I loved TD – and still do – but after reading that article, if Pizzolatto didn't plagiarize Ligotti then they should just take plagiarism off the books because it doesn't exist anymore.

Bob Morane

I understand Pizzolatto was 'inspired' (or 'lifting words') by Ligotti but there's a question here I'd like to ask: have you guessed where Ligotti got 'his inspirations' (or 'lifting words') from? Come on, We all use words and ideas inspired by others. The writers who claim they never do this and are totally original must have some kind of 'memory loss' -may be triggered by their own ego… Nothing is new in the world of creation and we all know this! We all get 'inspired by' others artist's works–Picasso used Degas's paintings and created a new style (Cubism) from it. Scorsese's use of tracking shots to express an emotion is deeply 'influenced' by Max Ophuls style. In LUCY, Besson's use of shots of nature to symbolize a danger or a human situation in the opening sequence (the interwoven scene between Scarlett delivering a suitcase to a drug dealers and the scene with a leopard chasing an antilope) is also using the same technique and style as Terrence Malick's. So, since we all know we are 'using' other people's work to create our own so why bashing Pizzolatto all of a sudden and saying his work is not legit? Are we sure Ligotti's work was not 'inspired' by someone else's work? I think if someone looks deeper may be they could find some strong ressemblances with Ligotti's inspired writers/philosophers.


Good writers borrow, great writers steal. -T.S. Eliot


funny, i remember reading an early interview with Pizzolatto where he talks about writing a couple of screenplays in a week's time after finishing his novel. i guess we can figure out now how he wrote them so quickly.

the more i read about this, the more damning it seems. yes, he ripped them off. very little question about that. if you're a creative, you are aware there are plenty of tools and techniques you can use to cover your tracks or transcend your influences. hell, even Picasso ripped people off. Pizzolatto ripped Ligotti and Alan Moore nearly word for word. that, i believe, is plagiarism.

the way i see it, i think HBO should definitely throw Ligotti some money, and maybe even Alan Moore (if he'll accept; Gene Ha and Zandor Cannon, the artists of the comic Pizzolatto ripped off, if he doesn't).


I commented on this when I read the original story a few days ago. I've never read Ligotti as I don't care for his philosophy, but I recognized that Pizzolatto was drawing from him when I watched the show. I was shocked to read the side-by-side comparison and see that he had taken, at times word-for-word, from Ligotti's writings. As the article points out, he also lifted from one of Alan Moore's lesser known works. Perhaps he believed that Ligotti was obscure enough no one would notice? In any event, some sort of response from Pizzolatto seems warranted.


He could have had either one of them say who exactly said it at the time, or even had Harrelson's character call Rust on him lifting all these ideas, thereby diffusing the whole thing.

Michael M. Hughes

I wrote about this yesterday when I first heard about it. The examples do not constitute plagiarism, from what I can see. The character of Cohle is quite clearly a inspired by Ligotti—as Pizzolatto has said on a number of occasions. None of the text is lifted verbatim, as anyone can see looking at the examples, but it is clearly "Ligottian" in tone, word choice, and theme.

See my analysis, and also the comments from Davis and Padgett, below the article at michaelmhughes dot com


Wow, it seems Pizzolato took the very words of Ligotti and used them as his own. I think he was just inspired by Ligotti. Actually reading the evidence in that link is damning.


Tarantino plagiarizes since the beginning of his career and people give him awards for it.


Could it just be that the character of Rusty Cohle was just a big fan of Thomas Ligotti and loved to quote him? lol


As a huge fan of Ligotti it was obvious to me from the moment I saw the first episodes of True Detective that Cohle's rants were heavily influenced by Ligotti. I'm ok with that and didn't consider it plagiarism. It's Pizzolattos' way of dealing with the issue that I don't like, that he didn't admit it until "cornered" and even on DVD commentary tells that some of Cohle's words are influenced by Nietzsche, with no mention of the more obvious influence. Maybe he's not breaking the law, but that's no homage either and seems pretty dishonest to me.


So it sounds like the argument is basically that, by making Cohle an adherent to Ligotti's philosophy, Pizzolatto plagiarized him? That's like accusing "The Big Lebowski" of plagiarizing Nietzsche.

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