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I wrote a "take-off" on a French song using a technique that I believe is called "parallel construction."

http://french.stackexchange.com/questions/6041/can-rustique-be-used-as-a-form-of-self-deprecation

In English, the original begins, "Me, me I am a man. And you, you are music." My version closely parallels this: "She, she is a woman. And me I am just a rustic" (peasant).

Is this technique used a lot in poetry? Is it considered a form of plagiarism? I'm writing "original" thoughts, but using someone else's template, especially in a language in which I am not fluent.

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2 Answers 2

If you're writing this as a pastiche - an original work which closely resembles some specific author's style - something that "they could have written", you're clean: style is not copyrightable. Of course this must be entirely original work, which may use similar construction - similar metaphors, same meter, the same stylistic tools but entirely original content, you're fine - it's a well known technique used either humorously or just to show skill, as an exercise, or even to convey a specific message by emulating given author commonly associated with something you want to convey. You don't really have to credit anyone - guessing the name of the author you're emulating is often an exercise to your readers - but don't deny it's a pastiche.

If you're creating a parody - your work is a humorous variation of the original - then, at least according to US law, it's fair use - and extremely common.

If you're merely copying given construction though, using its ideas to write your own, you're moving very close to plagiarism. Of course you can create a clearly derivative work, a remix - but in this case you must obtain copyright holder's permission/license to release it, and obviously crediting the original will be required.

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I'd call it a "pastiche," as opposed to mere copying. –  Tom Au Apr 4 '13 at 15:11

In reverse order:

As far as plagiarism, it depends on what you're doing with your take-off. Is it mean to be performed in public? Are you trying to get a recording contract? Does the music of yours sound the same note-for-note as the original? Is the original copyrighted? Do the monetary rights belong to a composer? Then you're veering into copyright territory, and I'd consult a lawyer. If it's just for you, don't sweat it — it's sort of "fan fiction." (Or parody, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish.)

Whether that structure is used a lot in poetry I have no idea, because poetry is a vast ocean spanning languages, cultures, and millennia. It's like asking "are there a lot of sonnets?" Well... yes and no. Shakespeare wrote a lot of them; not many people are writing them today. Does it matter?

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For now, it's "fan fiction," written to a woman I once dated. My poem does "sing" to the original music. If I wanted it performed in public, I'd try to license the rights to the music, or hire a lawyer to do whatever else I needed to do to "make it right." –  Tom Au Apr 4 '13 at 15:10

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