"One good theif is worth 10 good scholars, and you can take the word 'scholar' and replace it with anything"
I think now's a good time to retract my opinion about 'King Candy' from Wreck it Ralph. (blog post link). I didn't like the character because he's a rip-off of the Disney version of the Mad Hatter.
But frankly, everything's a rip off.
One of the main points of Austin Kleon's book "steal like an artist", is that everybody mimics, "steals" and incorporates work into their own. As he reminds the reader, the Beatles stared as a cover band.
Gallery and 'fine' Artwork get a free pass for 'swiping'. And uses fancy terms like "reminiscent of", "homages" and "influences"
But what's the difference between "good stealing" and "bad stealing"?
Bad stealing is obvious. Taking credit for work that's not yours. In short: "stuff that will get you sued".
So what is "Good Theft"?
Lets face it, superhero comics are incestuous as hell. This is why we have Deadpool.
DC had a masked mercenary character called Slade Wilson. Marvel comes out with a masked mercenary character called WADE Wilson.
BUT. There's some changes and tweaks beyond the cosmetic. While DC's "Deathstroke" remains serious and threatening as an adversary...
Enough changes have been made to the concept that now what started as a ripoff, turned into a...unique character in it's own right.
Let's say I want to make a TV show about Han Solo.
Lucasfilm might have other ideas. But let's say you mix that up with post-Civil War America(and Let's say that your name is "Joss Wheadon" since this is obviously completely hypothetical) and you have Firefly. By bringing different sources to the mix, the concept is changed enough to avoid lawsuit and the new product is better as a result. Like a DJ, bits you want to use or admire need to be "remixed" .
The biggest pointer when ripping off shit is ADMIT YOU ARE STEALING (or "homaging" if you will) . Because
a.) it makes you seem smart and shit when you can talk about "influences" and "homages".
b.) it makes you seem academic and shit when you can "site your sources" in a weird fashion and
c.) you are less likely to piss off whomever you ripped off when you give some due (or at least a tip of the hat)
Remix it with other stuff, tweak it enough to avoid legal issues, and FESS UP.