I’m sure you’ve heard of Lawless and Transformers star Shia Labeouf digging a hole for himself by now – the hole just keeps getting bigger!
27-year old Labeouf’s short film Howard Cantour.com which premiered at Cannes last year, was later revealed to include uncredited dialogue from Daniel Clowes’ comic Justin M Damiano. Labeouf apologized on Twitter in a seemingly heartfelt and eloquent fashion, which appears to have been lifted from Yahoo! Answers. When he apologized online to Alec Baldwin over a dispute on Broadway, he blatantly copy/pasted bits from an Esquire article, and in a recent e-mail exchange with Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston, Labeouf continues his rant against copyright and continues to plagiarize, quoting Picasso, Lawrence Lessig and Kenneth Goldsmith – all without mentioning the source.
His bizarro defense for stealing from Clowes include nuggets of wisdom such as:
Authorship is censorship
Should God sue me if I paint a river?
Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations-
You’ll not only have less parking violations but less DRIVERS.
As an artist and a writer, I find the discussion of inspiration versus stealing interesting. But honestly, the man who was the son of Dr. Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls seems to have finally lost it. Or maybe he never had it in the first place.
Or as @FadedYouthBlog wrote in reply to Labeouf’s tweeted apology in the sky (see below): How do you manage to out-douche yourself each and every time? It’s like a talent!
PS: I hope I have quoted and credited everyone correctly in this article. If not, let me know and I’ll fire up my skywriting plane.
Michael Freely says
While I find that Mr. Labeouf’s whole attitude bugs me, and plagiarism is not cool at all, I feel that he (un)eloquently raises the issue of copyright, and it NEEDS to be talked about. First off – I just have to say Labeouf is a terrible, terrible spokesperson for copyright leniency – his copied arguments are weak and hyperbolic, but I wouldn’t have had a problem with them if they made any sense. But I will go on….
Right now I feel that copyright rights fall further and further to the side of the copyright holder (who is often not the artist). The “free License” period is pushed further and further back so that a 75 year holding is not unheard of. 75 years?!?! This year, Llyod Alexander’s The Book of Three will be 50 years old. Will I be able to make a graphic novel of the work if I wanted, like I can for moby dick, the great gatsby, or grapes of wrath? Well, that all depends. Did Disney purchase the rights when they bombed The Black Cauldron decades ago? Would their Lawyers sue just because, even though they might do nothing with the rights? I decided to set my current project during the WWII period just so I could quote song lyrics without having to get the freakin’ rights first. Not a problem for DC or Marvel, with deep pockets, but what about an independent comics creator? Do they have the funds and is their creation going to be limited for this reason?
It all boils down to this question: When does a piece of culture get to finally be called “ours” and not “theirs”? Big Media will push and push for greater copyright protections, which us as artists would agree with, in theory, as it protects our work as well. But what seems to be the case is that copyright protections lock profits into the hands of Media conglomerates and we are being lead to agree with them. It feels more like gangsters offering protection. Nice intellectual property you have there – a shame if something happened to it.
So – I say all of this as an unpublished amateur who has never made a penny from his art. What do others think?
Palle Schmidt says
Michael, you touch on some interesting topics here. I never realized that using some lyrics to a song in a comic could get you in trouble. What about drawing places and people? Isn’t it part of creative licence?
I’m no expert on US law for obvious reasons, but I believe there is something called “fair use” which I hope this blogpost falls under! If you talk about a comic/book/film/whatever (even in you OWN comic/book/film/whatever) it’s all right, as long as you don’t misrepresent or take something away from the brand. Quite famously the Danish band Aqua made a hit song called “Barbie Girl” were sued by Mattel and won, because the court argued that it was basically a BENEFIT to Mattel, as in “free adverticing”. Last time I heard that song, it came playing from a Barbie doll in a store, so I guess Mattel agreed down the line!
Another thing to consider is how big a part of the work any theft/homage/fair use takes. If you put a part of a song in another medium such as a comic, I doubt you’ll be in trouble. If you print the song in it’s entirety, it might be a good idea to ask first.
Finally, if you can argue you comic/book/film/whatever is a non-profit piece of art, far less reason to believe you stole with intent.
In the case of LaBeouf, he took a major chunk of someone else’s material to make his own commercial material, without crediting or asking for permission. Pretty clear cut case. His attempts to apologize while at the same time claiming ideological reasons for his theft just makes it all the more entertaining…
Palle Schmidt says
You’re also right that corporations can have great benefit from scooping up copyright, leaving us pennyless artists scrambling for safety if they decide to sue. But then again, courts tend to vote in favor of “the little guy”. Or is that naive to think..?
Michael Freely says
Naive? I don’t know. I have a very strong feeling that you in the euro-zone are probably better protected as a creator than us in the States. My brother-in-law writes fantasy crime fiction and, at least at the time 6 or 7 years ago, could not publish more than a line or two out of a song without getting permission first. That said, I have a lot of research to do in this department. When I find some concrete stuff, I will let you know…..