Shia Labeouf Brilliantly Parodies Intellectual Property With Plagiarized Apologies And Defense Of Plagiarism

from the do-keep-this-up dept

I’ll admit that, other than knowing his name and that he was a Hollywood actor in some big budget films, I didn’t know very much at all about Shia LaBeouf. However, apparently he’s been facing some “controversy” over a few different examples of plagiarism in his work, with the “biggest” being plagiarizing a cartoon by Daniel Clowes called Justin M. Damiano with the short film Others also pointed out that, in a comic book created by LaBeouf, he apparently plagiarized a bunch of others, including Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski (if you’re going to plagiarize, plagiarize from the best, apparently).

While plagiarism scandals pop up every so often, there are a variety of standard responses — usually involving some sort of apology and then someone laying low for a while before reappearing (just ask Joe Biden). LaBeouf initially appeared to be following the same script… tweeting out apologies, before people started realizing that the apologies themselves were “plagiarized.” That includes using Tiger Woods’ apology after his scandal: “I have let my family down, and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart.” Also, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famous apology concerning his role in the Vietnam War: “I was wrong, terribly wrong. I owe it to future generations to explain why.”

From there, he finally admitted on New Year’s eve that he was really mocking everyone — which should have been obvious from the beginning, by saying:

You have my apologies for offending you for thinking I was being serious instead of accurately realizing I was mocking you.

Oh, and if you hadn’t figured it out already, that line is also plagiarized.

He then decided to give an email interview with BleedingCool, much of which itself appears to be plagiarized as well. BleedingCool initially claimed that it believed the statements were “original” to LaBeouf, but then has gone back and noted repeated lines in the interview that are plagiarized from others. I’m guessing that they’re missing quite a few others.

But what comes out of it is what is likely a highly plagiarized defense of plagiarism, as well as a condemnation of the state of copyright law today, and how it limits forms of expression. Take this tidbit, for example:

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.
Copyright law has to give up on its obsession with “the copy”
The law should not regulate “copy’s” or “reproductions” on there own.
It should instead regulate uses – like public distributions of copyrighted work –
That connect directly to the economic incentive copyright law was intended to foster.
The author was the person who had been authorized by the state to print there work.
They were the ones to be held accountable for the ideas.
Simple – should creation have to check with a lawyer?

At least some of that is from Larry Lessig. Almost certain other parts are from others. But, in a way he’s proving the point. He is creating something new, unique and interesting, even as he’s plagiarizing others, even to the point of talking about outdated copyright laws.

For what it’s worth, even this idea is not unique. Back in 2007 we wrote about author Jonathan Lethem writing an entire defense of plagiarism, which was 100% plagiarized. If Labeouf is looking for more material, he might want to check that one out, if he hasn’t already. Oh, and also Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 defense of plagiarism, which has some great quotes as well.

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Comments on “Shia Labeouf Brilliantly Parodies Intellectual Property With Plagiarized Apologies And Defense Of Plagiarism”

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CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Plagiarize!

I am never forget the day my first book is published.
Every chapter I stole from somewhere else.
Index I copy from old Vladivostok telephone directory.
This book was sensational!
Pravda – well, Pravda – Pravda said: “Zhil-bil korol kogda-to, pree nyom blokha zhila”[1] It stinks.
But Izvestia! Izvestia said: “Ya idoo kuda sam czar idyot peshkom!”[2]
It stinks.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re: Plagiarize!

Your dad is a wise man. I sang Lehrer’s songs to my daughter while she was growing up as well. Her favorite was “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” and I took great pride in being able to sing “The Elements” perfectly at full speed.

A sad case if I ever saw one. There’s no hope for you, I’m afraid. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

The truly brilliant part....

As any good artist can tell you, there are rules you must first learn and master, but once you have mastered them you can purposely break them effectively. The rule here is quotation with attribution. He is seamlessly littering everything he says about this with quotes but purposely leaving out the attribution as a means to get people to pay closer attention to what he is actually saying under the guise of finding the hidden quotes. It’s like a graphic designer breaking kerning rules for typesetting – purposely making something harder to read – in order to engage the viewer’s attention a little longer to in order to figure out the meaning. As with any art, there will be those that will get it and those that will not and those that think they do but haven’t got a clue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The truly brilliant part....

Also, in order to be offended by the use of a quote without attribution you would first have to recognize the quote and no that it was attributed to someone else in the first place at which point, you really didn’t need to be told who it was then did you? He’s questioning the rules which is something artists have done since the beginning of time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Quick, life imprisonment /s
Sad thing is, thats how some people think, that being strict is whats important, then the actual severity of the “crime”, in this case, quite literally letters being put together to put words together, the mentality being that if you use this non crime to do something someone else doesnt like, then this NON CRIME will be viewed, or at least an attempt to make OTHERS view this LITERAL non crime as a…..well,…..crime………….bastards overdue for major karma, is what that is

rosspruden (profile) says:

Sounds familiar.

Fans of Robert Heinlein will recall how Zebadiah Carter (in The Number of The Beast) earned a doctorate in education to show how ridiculously easy it was by lifting ideas from the doctorate review board’s own theses and crafting his thesis with no original ideas.

One has to wonder if this has ever been attempted in real life…

akp (profile) says:

I’ve been following this somewhat, and I think you’re giving Shia far too much intellectual credit.

He may be trying to make a larger point about re-mixing, but we here all usually still agree that trying to profit off of someone else’s work that you haven’t transformed is still a douchy thing to do.

The kid can’t even seem to form a proper English sentence. I don’t think he’s trying to parody anything, I think he’s trying to make excuses for things he’s actually done wrong.

He’s thumbing his nose at everyone who thinks he should apologize, but that doesn’t mean he actually shouldn’t apologize.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Adapting a story to the screen is transformative, for what should be obvious reasons.”

If so, I can take Stephen King’s “Cujo”, retitle it “Bingo” and film it exactly as written (just changing the characters’ names as Shia did with Clowes’ story) and suffer no legal consequences, right, boy?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, if you were to film Cujo exactly as written, you’d have an insanely long, boring movie that nobody would want to sit through.

A very long movie runs 2.5 hours or so. It’s literally impossible to include a complete novel on the screen in that amount of time. Movies tell short stories, not novels.

This means that movie adaptations of books must be adaptations: they have to be converted from novel form to short story form. That is significant editing, requiring significant creative decisions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

” It’s literally impossible to include a complete novel on the screen in that amount of time. Movies tell short stories, not novels.”

You obviously didn’t see the two-part “Atlas Shrugged”.

And the point was that he took the story without permission or acquiring the rights.
If he did it with a Stephen King novel (even changing the names), his bank account would belong to King.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You obviously didn’t see the two-part “Atlas Shrugged”.

True. The book was bad enough, I certainly won’t watch the movie.

I was redirecting the back to the point back to what ChurchHatesTucker was saying: that adapting a story to the screen is inherently transformative. What the AC was proposing was nonsensical and not to the point.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If the words have value in being retold, it doesn’t matter who originally said them. Accreditation doesn’t bear any measure of merit on the words, to take offense in their reuse is nothing more than an appeal to emotion that is fueled by a misguided concession to marketing concerns.

He shouldn’t have to apologize, and we do not all agree that what he did was wrong on any level. Any line you can draw on what is acceptable can be argued as subjective. Thinking that you can tell sewage from water after the two have been mixed is self-deluding. (Yes, that was a pun.)

Erinoid says:

I must not be smart enough

As a regular everyday person who knows nothing about ‘art’…. I will not watch this movie or try to ‘get’ Shia, based on the fact that without any of this ‘controversy’ he would have taken 100% credit for an idea that we all would have thought was his, AND profited from it. That’s not right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I must not be smart enough

What you don’t seem to get is that the plagiarism is SO over the top in terms of frequency and from as many sources (even to the point that he has to make a SIGNIFICANT EFFORT to do it at times when it would be MUCH easier not to. When someone does something in art like that 1. It isn’t an accident, and 2. there is a reason why they are doing it. The question then becomes why. Plagiarism is usually seen as an act of laziness. This isn’t. There is a big difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I must not be smart enough

Just read the email conversation with him. That a perfect example of what I am talking about. That took effort to answer the questions asked with so many quotes. Leaving off the quotation marks for effect is part of the technique. He clearly didn’t do that because he couldn’t say things “in his own words”. Good artists borrow but great artists steal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What is the difference between this and a film maker that sprinkles somewhat obscure quotes into his or her film from others’ works as subtle references to those works that are there for some viewers to pick up on? The only difference I can see is frequency. Frequency that is on purpose to make sure people pick up on some of them. True plagiarists try to pass off their plagiarism as their own work and honestly hope they are never found out and if they are found out they deny and attempt to justify (eg. Vanilla Ice). They are trying to get away with something. That is not the case here. He wants people to find the quotes. He wants them to react to it. He wants to move them to think about these issues. And so far he seems to have been fairly successful. How is that not good art?

Watchit (profile) says:

Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf

You’re walking in the woods
There’s no one around and your phone is dead
Out of the corner of your eye you spot him:
Shia LaBeouf.

He’s following you, about 30 feet back
He gets down on all fours and breaks into a sprint
He’s gaining on you
Shia LaBeouf

You’re looking for you car but you’re all turned around
He’s almost upon you now
and you can see there’s blood on his face
My God, there’s blood everywhere!

Running for you life (from Shia LaBeouf)
He’s brandishing a knife (It’s Shia LaBeouf)
Lurking in the shadows
Hollywood superstar Shia LaBeouf

Living in the woods (Shia LaBeouf)
Killing for sport (Shia LaBeouf)
Eating all the bodies
Actual cannibal Shia LaBeouf

Paul S says:


ok, so he took Clowe’s idea, story, & dialogue, changed the pronouns & slapped his name on it. He might have got permission & paid for the rights, & simply made a good adaptation, but, no. That wouldn’t be cutting-edge enough. To be a true artist, making an authorized adaptation just won’t suffice; it doesn’t have the ironic artistic integrity of passing off the story as your own, then plagiarizing your apologies after the fact. Yes, it was all a well planned out artistic statement from the brilliant mind of Sia Labeouf… The douchebaggery contained in this line of reasoning is truly exquisite. Mmmuah!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ...

Yes of course if you take it at face value and don’t look any deeper, it’s blatant plagiarism and is despicable. He hasn’t denied that it is plagiarism at all. He’s simply responded with more plagiarism. A big part of a lot of art is not so much about what you are trying to say but rather how you say it. In fact many artists have had entire periods of their careers that were all about exploring “how” with no “what” whatsoever in the works (eg. Mondrian and Neoplasticism). He is obviously using plagiarism as a technique. He is turning the rules on their head deliberately and some people will get it and some won’t. Just like some people get Andy Kaufman and some still don’t. Personally, I had no idea he was capable of this sort of creativity.

Bob D. says:

Re: Re: ...

Actually, I’d say it’s by taking it at face value that you come away with your reaction and saying things like “I had no idea he was capable of this sort of creativity.” In everything you’ve said on this page, you’ve given the impression of a grandma partway through an art history course at her local community college.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 ...

BTW it seems that I’m not the only one who see’s “Kaufman-esque” technique here:

From the comments…


Not only that, but he plagiarized his twitter apology from a yahoo answers post 4 years ago. AND, for fun, I copied and pasted his well phrased defintion of short films in the above article, and it looks like that was plagiarized word for word too! Check out the quote under ?Short Film is Art? here:

He just added for my generation at the end! Could he be doing this intentionally as a Kaufman-esque type prank or is that giving him too much credit? There?s the Esquire magazine article he copied as well in his public email to Alec Baldwin. Seems a little too much to not be something else?

Bob D. says:

“LaBeouf initially appeared to be following the same script… tweeting out apologies, before people started realizing that the apologies themselves were “plagiarized.”

That’s not the story. He seemed to legitimately try to apologise at first, and gave an apology that was a combination of his own words and an old Yahoo Answers post. In all likelihood he copied/pasted from Yahoo Answers because he didn’t have the intelligence to word his own defense and the fact that he altered a few words seemed to suggest he was trying to disguise this and put it ‘his own words’ (as they often direct you to do in grade school English classes). AFTER this was discovered he then started posting glaringly famous apologies as his own words. It’s more than reasonable to say this was an attempt to save his ass, try to suggest it was all a joke rather than him being embarrassingly empty-headed. It should tell you everything that all his ‘quotes’ since the Yahoo Answers discovery have been from famous people rather than random message board posts.

I can understand having different views on quoting and plagiarism but to describe anything Shia’s done here as ‘brilliant’ is just pure gullibility speaking.

LAB (profile) says:

For example, LaBeouf wrote:
?Seemingly indifferent to the fate that awaited him ? Donal Thomas continued to look obstinate in the antechamber of the execution room. A silent exchange pitted the condemned man.?

While Duteurtre wrote:
?Seemingly indifferent to the fate that awaited him, D?sir? Johnson continued to look obstinate. In the antechamber of the execution room a silent exchange pitted the condemned man??

If you think this is somehow brilliant or that he was should be celebrated because his apologies for doing this were quotes from other people without using quotation marks we obviously don’t agree on brilliance. I perhaps might give him more credit if he were answering interviews like this his whole career as opposed to after being shown as a plagiarist.

Bob D. says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re arguing as though your reaction is one come to only after great thought when it’s really just the simplest and easiest response – it’s the unthinking response, swallowing everything exactly as given. You haven’t looked at the timeline and you haven’t questioned or considered anything. You’ve just blindly accepted everything as given and started patting yourself on the back for ‘getting’ it. If part of’s intended appeal is that it was plagiarised, which is your assessment, it sure is odd that Shia removed the entire website/video once the plagiarism was discovered instead of standing by the work. I’m actually curious now, what’s your take on that one, goober? And what’s your take on the original apology (“In my excitement and naivet? as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation”)? When you read that, what’s the thought that goes through your head before you say ‘I get it!’ and start giving yourself a nice pat on the back?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The easiest way to take it is to read it as traditional plagiarism, done for the reasons that most plagiarists do it. It takes a deeper thought process to use plagiarism as to turn the rules on their head and get people to think differently about things. The fact that the video was taken down really doesn’t mean much as the apparent point of the film to begin with was to spark the discussion and at that point it had served it’s purpose. Everything that has transpired since then is the real art being created.

LAB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I did not come up with the phrase “more than meets the eye,” (obviously), nor did I come up with

“There is more to him than meets the eye.”

This was taken from another comments section, on another web site, pertaining to the story, written by someone else. The function of the quotation marks is to signify this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I apologize though. I actually just noticed that I misread your comment and missed the “IF” at the beginning of it. No, I wouldn’t have assumed that your comment was original as like you said, it is obvious. And if you took it from another comment from another site and strictly following the rules are so important, why didn’t you include attribution to the where you found it?

LAB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

That brings us back to the point of mastering a rule then being able to break it effectively.

He has shown no mastery. The mission statement for his website was lifted verbatim from another comic book author. I find a pattern of laziness, you find it brilliant artist. He has given no credit to anyone besides himself until confronted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

And again he doesn’t have to give credit to them as the point of what he is doing is to leave it for people to find the references. And to a point, he did give credit when he started issuing the “apologies.” Had he denied it and claimed it was all a coincidence, then I might agree with you. But he didn’t.

Stephen J. Anderson says:

Occam's razor says it's PR spin

The problem I can see here is that there is no evidence that Labeouf ever expected to reveal or have it discovered that the work was plagiarized. Occam’s Razor suggests he thought he was going to get away with it. So now, he sounds less like a bold artist defending artistic freedom to produce transformative works, and more like someone simply trying to paint himself as one. It’s a brilliant piece of PR, but that’s all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One more note...

“Now will someone please explain how Daniel Crowes is “harmed” by all of this?”
The same way Stephen King would be harmed if Shia took one of his stories, filmed it without paying for the rights, and claimed it as Shia’s own work, which is exactly what the a-hole did!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: One more note...

And that “harm” is? Actually Crowes was much lesser known but is now much better known now. Crowes and his work have received valuable publicity that he couldn’t pay for. King is already much more mainstream. So no, the “harm” to King is not the same as the “harm” to Crowes if you want to insist on using the word “harm”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 One more note...

Still my point is valid though. The use wasn’t noticed even after months of touring the film festival circuit that is heavily attended by well respected critics and industry insiders and received much critical acclaim predominately because no one there was familiar with the original work or its author. It was only when it was released to the wider audience of the Internet that the Clowes and his work became known to them and countless others simply because of the controversy. I’d bet that Clowes has since received tons of offers since this broke from people who now want to work with him on future projects that had never heard of him before. So again I have to ask, what exactly is the way he and his work has been “harmed”?

Andy's Army (user link) says:

Andy Kaufman Inducted into the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame

When LaBeouf promotes #AK4WWEHOF2014 you know the likelihood of Andy Kaufman inducted into the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame will increase a thousand-fold! Its always great to remember what Andy’s Army does for one another! Just ask Bob Pagani and Bill Apter

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