South Park Creator Apologizes For Plagiarism 'Mistake'

If last week’s episode of South Park seemed familiar, it’s because you might have already seen the jokes and dialogue when they were first created, for a College Humor video.

South Park co-creator Matt Stone acknowledged that the episode, which mocks the convoluted plotting of the movie Inception, copied dialogue from College Humor’s Inception Characters Don’t Understand Inception. Stone apologized for the incident Friday, explaining that he and co-creator Trey Parker copied the dialogue by mistake, not realizing that the College Humor lines weren’t directly lifted from the movie.

Here’s one of multiple examples of one of the “mistakes,” as reported by the New York Times:

CollegeHumor: “That doesn’t sound so hard.”

“It is.”

“Why?”

[a character groans in pain]

“We don’t have time for this.”

“O.K., fine, so next we’re going into Arthur’s dream, and then what?”

“Then we go into Fischer’s dreams.”

“O.K., got it.”

“But Fischer will think we’re in Browning’s dream.”

“O.K. Wait, who’s Browning?”

South Park: “That doesn’t sound very difficult.”

“It is.”

“Why?”

[a character groans in pain]

“We don’t have time for this.”

“O.K., fine, so you’re going to take my son to a dream within the dream, and then what?”

“Then we go into your husband’s dreams.”

“O.K.”

“But your husband will think we’re in Hasselbeck’s dream.”

“O.K. Wait, who’s Hasselbeck?”

How does the plagiarism change your opinion about the show?

‘South Park’ Apologizes for Lifted Material in ‘Inception’ Parody [The New York Times]

Comments

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    So, they made fun of the movie without actually watching it?

    • Nothing Can Kill the Grimace... says:

      I’m sure they’ve seen the movie, but that would have been months ago. I saw Social Network last Friday, but I couldn’t recite any full conversations from it on the spot.

      • georgi55 says:

        Yeah but you aren’t going out and making a cartoon about it!

        • Nothing Can Kill the Grimace... says:

          I’m obviously not saying that should take them off the hook. I’m simply countering the “How can you parody something you’ve never seen?” line of thinking, since nothing out there suggests they haven’t actually seen the movie.

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            But with a movie so deep and meaningful and important as Inception, if you don’t go into its deep and twisting storyline, you clearly aren’t getting it.

            Clearly.

    • jessjj347 says:

      I could tell when I watched the episode that they didn’t see the movie.
      It seemed like they just watched the trailer, based on the fact that they kept making fun of the music from it…

    • SBinVA says:

      Does anything about Trey Parker or Matt Stone make you think they *woudn’t* take the Cliff’s Notes approach to writing?

  2. dolemite says:

    Doesn’t really change my opinion. Obviously 99% of their material is original, and it was only a matter of time before they duplicated/copied someone else’s humor. Crappy thing to do, stealing other people’s creative work, but at least they acknowledged it, unlike most of companies.

    • AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

      Yep. The key here is in the way they acknowledged it. If they came out like assholes and tried to PR-speak their way out of it, I’d have a different opinion. But the fact that they immediately owned up to it and apologized – - plus the fact that this appears to be an isolated incident, not a pattern of plagiarism – - makes a huge difference.

    • mythago says:

      It’s OK to cheat as long as you apologize really sincerely when you get caught? Okay.

      Seriously, it’s inevitable that this would have happened, though. Ten years of doing anything and having people think you’re a comedy god for merely opening your mouth, and you’re gonna start cutting corners.

    • PSUSkier says:

      Simpsons did it?

      Really though, it doesn’t change my opinion of the show. Should they have done it? No. Did they acknowledge they did it? Yep. So while it sucks that they did it at least they didn’t go for the full blown denial.

  3. grucifer says:

    Were they called out on it or did they catch it themselves and apologize?

    • SolidSquid says:

      It seems that someone else called them, but they thought when they lifted it that the section of dialogue was taken directly from the movie, rather than having already been modified for parody’s sake

    • common_sense84 says:

      Not really called out. The accusation was made. They announced this the next day.

      So unlike most people who would lie about it, they admitted the mistake. Because honestly, it doesn’t mean anything. Trying to lie over such a dumb issue would have been pointless.

      And considering this episode was the worst south park episode of all time, pointing out that college humor wrote the dialog helps them. This episode really really sucked.

      • grucifer says:

        Yea, I agree it would’ve been dumb.

        Seeing that they handled it pretty well, I won’t stop watching. Not that I watch all the time, but I make sure to watch when I hear about an especially funny episode.

        • Weighted Companion Cube says:

          One of their better better episodes was prior to this, the Jersey Shore parody. I still laugh about the Gulf of Jersey.

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            The scene with Al Qaeda coming to the rescue was one of the best moments in any TV show ever.

            EVER.

    • chaelyc says:

      The episode was named “Insheeption” so I’m pretty sure it was not intended as sneaky plagiarism.

  4. Opdelt says:

    South Park is still on the air?

    • Mighty914 says:

      Yeah, still does very well. I guess you don’t watch a lot of TV?

    • jessjj347 says:

      southparkstudios.com = all episodes available for streaming :)

    • denros says:

      I make my own southpark episodes at home.

    • DoktorGoku says:

      Yup, and very popular.

    • mszabo says:

      thats my feeling as well. Southpark really seemed to have “jumped the shark” a few years back. That and ComedyCentral (or my cable provider) starting all Southpark episodes 3 minutes late so I can’t Tivo them stopped me watching a while back.

      • Sian says:

        You can tell TiVo to start and stop recording early or late per program.

        Really it’s no excuse.

        • craptastico says:

          it can be a pain when those two extra minutes encroach on the time slot of something else that’s being DVRed.

        • Lollerface says:

          Yeah it’s an excuse. My cable provider does the same thing and it’s bullshit. Depending on the schedule it can throw off other recordings. Start on time like everyone else.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        southparkstudios.com has every episode up for free.

    • dangermike says:

      collegehumor is still around? =P

      (seriously, aren’t those guys like 30 now? And what ever happened to their “we’re adults now” spin-off AllDumb? That could easily have been what break.com is now. Of course, stile pretty much called the end of worthwhile e/n sites with his suicide hoax.)

    • pop top says:

      These comments are just to worthless and annoying. “People still read newspaper?!” “People still use pennies?!” “People still breathe oxygen?!”

  5. anime_runs_my_life says:

    Doesn’t change a thing. I’m not going to go and throw out all the season box sets because of one incident that unless you go to College Humor every day, you’re not going to know.

    Even if I did go to College Humor every day, I doubt I’d put it all together to say “hey! they lifted that! I’m never going to watch again!” *foamsnarlsnap*

    Honestly, some of the subject matter they’ve done over the years doesn’t even compare to this. The guys over at College Humor should be flattered, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    • Alexk says:

      Oh, yeah, it’s SO flattering when someone rips off your work and makes a lot of money on it.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        I’d be thrilled if someone as high profile as Parker and Stone would rip off my work. Sure, I’d be sad about not getting delicious cash money, but that would also mean that I’m awesome enough to be ripped off by someone high profile.

        Sadly, nobody is ripping me off. Ever.

      • pawnblue says:

        Do you really think South Park is making money off of 10 seconds of dialogue? Really? The reason that South Park is so successful is because they took this other guys obvious joke?

        They aren’t making money off of that joke. The joke is so obvious that they thought it was a movie quote. South Park makes money because it’s consistently entertaining to its audience. If you delete that line from the show, what changes? Nothing.

        It’s an obvious joke. This isn’t missed profitability that South Park captured.

        • Alexk says:

          Sigh. Try reading the original post. It’s just one bit of a larger piece of plagiarism.

          It’s always a delight to watch fans of something make excuses for bad behavior. “Ethics? I love these guys, so any rationale for their behavior is valid! They’re my guys, so they’re in the right! How DARE anyone call them on it! Harrumph!”

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            No, I don’t think anyone is defending this. I think they’re saying:

            1. It’s not that big of a deal– the Internet raaaaaaage is an overreaction.

            2. The guys issued a prompt apology.

            What more can anyone possibly want? For them to kowtow and pray to the Lords of Kobol for forgiveness?

            Yeah, it sucks that they did this, but nobody is perfect, and the most you can ask anyone for is contrition. Beyond that it’s just pandering to the easily offended.

            • Alexk says:

              What more can anyone want?

              Writers’ credits, of course. The original site’s writers wrote part of the show. They deserve a credit and, at the very least, scale pay.

              An apology doesn’t cut it. If you copied South Park, they wouldn’t accept an apology. They’d take it out of your hide.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        And how many pageviews is CollegeHumor getting off this story from last week today?

  6. cardigan says:

    If you’re going to parody something, for Pete’s sake, at least watch the original source material. These guys are no better than Seltzer & Friedberg, and all the half-assed “parodies” they make.

  7. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    Quick…someone sift through every episode of South Park to find every other instance of plagiarism.

    I’ll wait.

  8. Gandalf the Grey says:

    They made a mistake, they were notified of mistake, they made a public apology and acknowledged the original owner.

    I don’t see what more is needed. We all make mistakes, the best we can do is acknowledge them and move on.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      No. We must Internet RAAAAGE. FFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU….

      It is the only way. It is the way of the interbutts.

    • Alexk says:

      Word for word plagiarism is not a “mistake.” And somehow I doubt if the creators of South Park would say, “We’re flattered” and not take legal action if this happened to them. Y’think?

      I’m always amazed at the manner in which fans of anything will excuse bad behavior by their heroes.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Actually, the South Park creators have made jokes about derivative works, including of their own. The guys have never demonstrated that they’re particularly prone to suing people for much of anything. I remember reading an interview with Parker where he said he really doesn’t even care if people torrent the show because he’s just happy if people are enjoying it.

        Again, it sucks that they did this, but they apologized and showed contrition. Beyond that, let’s not /b/eatify CollegeHumor.

        • Gandalf the Grey says:

          The mistake was that Trey and Matt thought they were using a quote from the movie, and not that had been created by CollegeHumor.com The part that makes it better is a public apology. If College Humor wishes to ask for licensing of the sample, then what makes it ok would be to pay the licensing.

          If the creators of South Park are made aware of the issue, and issue a public apology, then the ball is in College Humor’s court. Unless College Humor request other action be taken, then things are ok.

    • mac-phisto says:

      no, it’s not enough. the appropriate punishment would be a south park parody of the whole event. i’m thinking something along the lines of cartman becoming a standup comedian, but he begins to crack under pressure, so he starts stealing his jokes from crappy comedians. the comedians find out & sue. cartman is sentenced to make a public apology & then eat a plate of dane cook’s poo.

      that would be enough.

  9. c_c says:

    The Simpsons already did it.

  10. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    So, they’re apologizing for accidentally plagiarizing CollegeHumor because they REALLY meant to plagiarize Inception.

    Right….

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      Parody is plagiarism?

      • JakeChance says:

        Only in America and depending on which lawyer you’re talking to. If you’re talking to any company, yes, definitely yes.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          I may not be a lawyer, but I thought we cleared that up when we sued Larry Flynt for his tasteful parodies of political figures?

          In any case, yeah, people sue all the time for parody– but it doesn’t change the fact that in Rationalville, parody and plagiarism are distinct.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      It’s parody for Inception. It’s plagiarism for College Humor. Those are not the same things.

  11. BBP says:

    So…

    They parodied a parody while plagiarizing lines, almost verbatim, from the parody they DID manage to watch because, with all of their fame and fortune, they could not obtain a copy of the film to watch in order to properly parody it.

    That makes perfect sense, right?

    • pawnblue says:

      It does, as they make South park episodes in about a week. If no one had easy access to the film (like a promo DVD) which is not in theaters and not on DVD, what could they do?

      This mistake makes them look a little stupid, but I can understand it. The joke is pretty obvious because they did say stuff like that in the film over and over again.

    • cheezfri says:

      I wouldn’t watch that stupid movie either.

  12. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    Given that Parker and Stone have been at this for over 15 years, they’re bound to screw up at least once– especially given their topical humor.

    It doesn’t change my opinion of the show, especially when it’s at its best.

  13. JakeChance says:

    Could not care less actually. When talking about the ridiculous complications of Inceptions you’d probably arrive at the same dialog regardless of seeing the movie, seeing the college humor clip, or getting hit over the head with a 2×4.

  14. MeOhMy says:

    One of the most innovative and incisive TV shows ever. Doesn’t change my opinion of it.

  15. fantomesq says:

    Plagerism is NOT of itself a crime! It’s an education faux pas but not the least bit criminal in itself. Surely what we are talking about here is copyright infringement which is usually civil, not criminal. SouthPark may ultimately have to pay a fine – this is something that a clearing house REALLY should have caught and Matt & Trey need to be more careful n the future, but surely SouthPark makes enough to cover it, right?

    • dragonvpm says:

      Actually to be copyright infringement it would need to fail the four tests needed to establish fair use. Oddly enough it might not fail the economic impact test since this flap may very well drive a decent bit of extra traffic to College Humor and it could very well end up making it more money now that the story has come out.

      Still though I wouldn’t be surprised if South Park extended some sort of olive branch and worked something out to compensate them in some way.

      • Alexk says:

        That would be wise — and it would be ethical as well. But part of it involves giving the writers at the original source writers’ credits on the episode’s credit listing. I’m hoping that Parker and Trey have the honesty to do that. I’m not holding my breath in anticipation, but, hell, maybe they’re decent guys. Here’s where we find out.

      • BStu78 says:

        I don’t think the economic test would generally consider whether your copyright infringement raised the profile of who you were stealing from. I see very little reason to think South Park could make a good-faith fair use claim and its obvious they aren’t trying to. In all liklihood they’ll open up their checkbook and make this right. I think that they were so fast to acknowledge the error and apologize will work in their favor.

        • dragonvpm says:

          The economic test is explicitly meant to quantify if the infringing use reduced the market for the intellectual property in question (i.e. if I can buy a bootleg Blu-Ray for $5 instead of paying $30 for a legit copy I would clearly be hurting the copyright holder’s ability to market their legit copies). If the infringing use increases the profile of the copyright holder’s IP and this in turn increases their ability to make money from the intellectual property then they can’t turn around and claim copyright infringement. That’s just the way that fair use works, you can’t claim that someone hurt you if they actually helped you (the 4 part test doesn’t really address intent either so it doesn’t matter if they intended to help College Humor or not).

          Like I said though, I’m sure South Park will work something out to make it up to them and now that they’re known as that website the South Park guys visit and “borrowed” some material from I think they’ll end up seeing a decent uptick of ad revenue and page views for a while at least.

  16. MaliBoo Radley says:

    Doesn’t change my opinion of the show at all. I haven’t actually watched it since the fifth season. As soon as every episode starting making a social or political point, I passed. It’s not that I’m not interested in social and political commentary, it’s just not what I watched that show for. Politics and satire are everywhere now. Sometimes I need a break.

    Just my opinion.

  17. GrlRedBalloon says:

    Doesn’t change my opinion at all. The show is hilarious. And though the similarities between this and the College Humor video are similar, they’re not EXACTLY the same. I think anyone parodying Inception would come up with a similar spoof as the College Humor one. If you lift a sentence from an article and replace many of the words while leaving the sentence structure intact, is it really plagarism?

    At least the guys fessed up to it. I don’t think this will deter anyone who loves the show from watching, though it may upset people who were never fans to begin with.

  18. stottpie says:

    simpsons did it

    collegehumord did it

    youtube did it

    4chan did it

    in this day and age, it’s tough not to plagiarize.

  19. quijote says:

    My first reaction was that it was probably done by a staffer. I’ve suspected Matt and Trey stopped being as involved in the writing after season 8, since it suddenly stopped being funny then.

    Either way, it was probably a mistake, because why would they lift so many lines verbatim and think nobody would notice?

  20. danstirling2000 says:

    If you haven’t had a chance to watch Zero Hour! (yes, exclamation point is in the title) you should see it sometime. Technically Airplane! is a remake of this movie, and about half the script is verbatim from the original. Of course this was done intentionally, but it’s interesting to see lines lifted word-for-word from what is supposed to be a serious drama becoming hilarious in the context of Airplane!

    • Daggertrout says:

      Surely, you can’t be serious?

    • Kitten Mittens says:
      • danstirling2000 says:

        Nice – thanks for the link!

        I saw Airplane! last year at a theater, and two of the ZAZ team were there to talk about making it. They acknowledged that since this was the first full-length feature they made they were fortunate in that they could pretty much copy the original as far as staging, story line etc. They were less happy with the flow and consistency of some later films (like Top Secret! which was also shown), which were original scripts.

    • Alexk says:

      It’s worth examining that because –unlike the South Park plagiarism under discussion here– what Airplane! did really IS parody. Pretty darn good parody, too.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        That’s quite a big chip on your shoulder aimed right at South Park. Did South Park steal your girlfriend and kick sand in your eye one day at the beach, or something? Sheesh.

        Some of their parody has been top notch as well.

        • Alexk says:

          (Sigh). No, I have no “chip on my shoulder regarding South Park.” I simply know how the entertainment industry operates. Under standard contracts, anyone involved in writing a show is entitled to payment and credits. That’s what’s needed here — not an apology.

          For a bit more on these basics. do a search for the video “Harlan Ellison, Pay the Writer.”

  21. diasdiem says:

    I believe them. Considering their audience, I doubt they would seriously deliberately plagiarize an online video clip and expect to get away with it. They just look stupid for not using the actual movie, or at least not being familiar enough with it to spot that the dialogue wasn’t from it.

  22. MonkeyBoy says:

    I’d complain about South Park, but Simpsons did it.

  23. peebozi says:

    put an infinite number of monkeys in a room, with an infinite number of typewriters, for an infinite amount of time and all of Shakespeare’s works would be recreated exactly as he wrote them.

    seems south park would just go buy the books and then have someone retype them.

  24. janeslogin says:

    It was a rather sorry episode of South Park. Next time, if they plagiarize they should find something funnier than CollegeHumor.

  25. chaelyc says:

    I guess it’d be upsetting if Seth MacFarlane hadn’t built an empire on plagiarizing the work of EVERYONE for his stupid cartoons. South Park always satirizes other movies/books/TV shows and I don’t think this is any different.

  26. Levk says:

    nothing changes

  27. KittensRCute! says:

    south jumped the shark about 2-4 seasons ago, so maybe now matt and trey will bow out and stop ruining south park by keeping it going.

  28. asherchang2 says:

    South Park’s satire always seemed like a bunch of random, half-baked ideas pulled out of the creators’ asses from stuff they’ve heard about second-hand. It wouldn’t bother me so much that they address the issues like someone copying the Mona Lisa with a paint roller if they didn’t feel like they were saying Important Things.

  29. f3rg says:

    So, South Park and College Humor both got a publicity boost for this (SP for stealing, College Humor for being ripped off), so what does it matter? I’m guessing more people will become aware of College Humor now.

  30. MrEvil says:

    Which rule of the internet is “Every post is just a repost of a repost.” I don’t have my wallet card with me.

  31. teke367 says:

    I never saw the College Humor skit, but that was the worst part of the South Park episode. It seemed a bit off, and it actually makes more sense now if they thought they were spoofing a specific exchange from the film.