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Shia LaBeouf: Out of Line or Onto Something?

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Shia LaBeouf: Out of Line or Onto Something?

Adrian Patenaude

You've probably heard of the Shia LaBeouf scandal by now. It's certainly brought the topic of plagiarism to the forefront, causing us to reconsider the seriousness of the issue, especially in the ambiguousness of the digital age. Here's a rundown of the situation so far:

  1. LaBeouf made a short film, "HowardCantour.com," misappropriating the story, dialogue and visuals of "Justin M. Damiano," a comic by cartoonist/screenwriter Daniel Clowes. (See the side-by-side comparison here.)
  2. When word got out it was plagiarized, LaBeouf (@thecampaignbook) started apologizing on Twitter - only his apologies were plagiarized, too. He also made excuses: "In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation." (Seriously, as a professional, he should know better!) His shenanigans reached new heights in his outlandish apology to Clowes - a message in skywriting.
  3. Then LaBeouf tweeted a picture of the storyboard for his next short film, "Daniel Boring." Guess what? It, too, was ripped off from Clowes, this time from his well-known graphic novel "David Boring."
  4. Soon after, LaBeouf posted screenshots of a cease-and-desist sent by Clowes' legal representative: "Mr. LaBeouf must immediately take down his tweet regarding 'Daniel Boring' and he must stop all efforts to create and produce another short film that misappropriates Mr. Clowes work 'David Boring.' ...Brian, your client is seriously out of control." Now this is his cover photo on Twitter:
@thecampaignbook
@thecampaignbook

Really, Shia? That's what you got out of that? 

This whole situation has confused and angered me. We all know plagiarism is wrong. Our professors drilled that into our heads in school. On a moral level, it's deceptive. It's also unfair to the original writers or artists, who deserve to receive credit and payment for their hard work. Not to mention the actual laws against copyright infringement. How could Shia LaBeouf, a public figure with easy access to legal advisors, get this far without being stopped? Shia's blunder was a rude awakening to the gravity of plagiarism and our need to be educated about this issue as it intersects with our work as artists.

But some are calling Shia LaBeouf's behavior a kind of performance art. On January 2, Bleeding Cool published an interview with LaBeouf. Using a significant amount of unattributed quotes, he pushes the idea of curation as art: "What does an artist do – they just point and say look at this." LaBeouf also retweeted several thoughts from Kenneth Goldsmith, a proponent of "uncreativity." Could it be that LaBeouf has a legitimate point he's trying to make?

My next few posts are going to explore these questions. Stay tuned.

What were your initial reactions to this scandal? Do you think he has a point?