Inspiration Adaptation Or Something Else?

Shia LaBeouf is a twenty seven year old actor. He directed a short film which was shown in Cannes in 2012. As described in that May 2012 The Hollywood Reporter post, “Howard, the story of a film critic played by Jim Gaffigan, is LaBeouf’s own quirky critique of film critics.

LaBeuof just made that short film available online. And then what happened?

People watched. And realized that LaBeuof’s short film reminded them of something else: a short comic by Daniel Clowes.

LaBeouf, in his film and any interviews, never credited or acknowledged Clowes.

Some of the links that explain just what those similarities are, and how LaBeouf avoided crediting any writer on his short film, while implying strongly that his idea was original.

Shia LaBeouf’s movie plagiarizes Daniel Clowes, Boing Boing.

Failed Comic Book Artist Shia LaBeouf Makes Film Based on Daniel Clowes Comic Without Permission, Comics Alliance.

Shia LaBeouf Accused of Plagiarizing Cartoonist in Short Film, Wired

And then things got a bit more interesting, because LaBeouf apologized/explained via Twitter, using, well, things that we’ve heard before from people accused of copying something without giving credit.

Shia LaBeouf Apologizes After Plagiarizing Artist Daniel Clowes For His New Short Film, BuzzFeed.

And his apology included what appears to be, well, something copied from a YAHOO answers board from a few years back. No, really.

As Vanity Fair summed it up in it’s headline, Shia LaBeouf Accused of Plagiarism In His Short Film, Then Plagiarizes His Apology. Vanity Fair points out, accurately, that LaBeouf has been in the business for fifteen years and “I didn’t know” isn’t a good excuse.

Vanity Fair included something that puzzles me: “Clowes’s original comic appeared in the anthology collection The Book of Other People, a charity effort that directed all proceeds to Dave Eggers’s 826NYC non-profit. By adapting the comic without permission LaBeouf isn’t taking money away from the charity or Clowes himself; it is a fairly victimless crime of omission.”

What? If, indeed, LaBeouf has adapted Clowes’ work, OF COURSE it’s taking money from someone. The copyright page of the anthology says Clowes owns the copyright; he has the right to sell, or not sell, the film rights. Even if it is a short comic that appeared in an anthology as a fundraiser. Not to mention that any buzz, or attention, or respect that LaBeouf got from the short film was, in part, buzz, attention, and respect that should have gone Clowes’ way. And those three things mean exposure and money. They aren’t small points.

The Los Angeles Times got it right in its article, Shia LaBeouf admits Daniel Clowes’ uncredited work was ‘inspiration’: “The few minor differences . . . are what might be done in an adaptation. But they don’t come anywhere close to making LaBeouf’s work distinct from Clowes’. . . .Is it possible that LaBeouf, a 27-year-old movie star . . . has no understanding of copyright? If what LaBeouf did was an adaptation — something that perhaps may  be decided in court — it requires two things: permission and payment. Permission might not be granted. A price would have to be agreed upon. And that is all supposed to happen before filming begins.

Another observation: Yay for editors. It is Clowes’ editor — Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics —  who is out there, bringing people’s attention to this and not taking it sitting down. As reported at BuzzFeed, Daniel Clowes Pursuing His Legal Options Regarding Shia LaBeouf’s Plagiarism. All the great quotes (and please, click through for the quotes, or why I would want Reynolds in my corner) are from Reynolds.

Could something be “inspired” by another work of art yet not rise to the level of “adaptation” requiring permissions and payment?

Would a “credit” to Clowes be enough for LaBeouf to avoid any problems?

Librarians and teachers teach students about plagiarism. Do you think this story — and the reactions, all negative towards LaBeouf — is something that will help students realize that plagiarism is wrong? 



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