Background: Earlier this month, actor/director Shia LaBeouf was taken to task for the similarities between his short film, HowardCantour.com, and a comic by the cartoonist Daniel Clowes. Incredibly, LaBeouf’s ensuing apology was also plagiarized from a Yahoo Answers comment from four years ago. Things just got weirder from there, and culminated yesterday when LaBeouf took to skywriting—yeah, seriously—to issue his latest apology.
Enter Richard Johnston of Bleeding Cool. Johnston managed to contact LaBeouf yesterday via email, and the two had a fascinating online conversation about authorship, plagiarism and creativity. You should read the entire exchange, because Johnson did an amazing job holding LaBeouf’s feet to the fire on his claim that “authorship is censorship.” In addition, Johnson exposed the hypocrisy inherent in LaBeouf’s position, since the actor has profited greatly from a copyright system that values the integrity (and sovereignty, really) of original creative work.
Throughout the discussion, LaBeouf speaks in those academic one-liners, like a confused nihilist philosopher from the early 19th century. An example:
SL: Authorship is censorship
Should God sue me if I paint a river?
Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations…
The word law is against my principles.
The problem begins with the legal fact that authorship is inextricably
bound up in the idea of ownership and the idea of language as
Intellectual property. Language and ideas flow freely between people
Despite the law. It’s not plagiarism in the digital age – it’s repurposing.
It’s easy to see it for what it is—an attempt to deflect attention and to duck responsibility for taking an intellectual shortcut. But Johnson never lets him off the hook, and the result is a small piece of Internet glory for anyone who has had their work stolen or just believes in artistic fair play. One more time, that link.