Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Shia LeBeouf Really Took From Dan Clowes

I generally have a more flexible idea of the dos and don't of intellectual property, but in the case of Shia LaBeouf's recent plagiarism of Dan Clowes short work Justin M. Damiano, my feelings are a little more personal. I've been a longtime fan of Clowes, and his work has been very important to me. 
Someone on the comments section of a recent article about LeBeouf's plagiarism, (which you can read, here), suggested that Clowes benefited from LeBeouf's fame because of the publicity brought on by the the incident I don't happen to agree. 
The whole point of licensing is not just compensation but artistic control. the two pre-existing films made from Clowes’ work, Ghost World and Art School Confidential,  were close collaborations with his friend, Terry Zwigoff. He was not consulted for LeBeouf’s film in any way, and would more than likely not have given him permission to adapt the story if he had been given the choice. LeBeouf did not give him this choice. 
Clowes has had many opportunities to pursue a kind of fame. He’s been invited to appear on national talk shows, but has refused these offers, and declines most interviews. Saying that he benefits from LeBeouf’s fame suggest that fame is something that Clowes values over the integrity of his work, and that’s just not the case.
Then there’s LeBeouf implication that he was the author of the work. It could have been a fan film, but that’s not how LeBeouf presented it. It was only when LeBeouf was caught, that he revealed the truth. He presented the film as his own original work at the biggest film festival in the world. He received acclaim for work he did not do. He was found out, but the damage has largely been done. Giving Clowes a credit on a film that Clowes had nothing to do with doesn’t reverse this. A credit on the film implies that Clowes in some way takes responsibility for its content, and only gives further credibility to the project.
For as long as Clowes is able to maintain legal control over his work, that control should be respected, and LeBeouf should get more than a slap on the wrist. Otherwise, what’s to prevent someone else from doing the same thing? The film needs to be killed. Clowes needs to be compensated. End of story.


  1. Those are really good points you've made. Many people assume that fame and fortune are what every artist is after, and that is not always the case. You're very right about the original author having lost the integrity and authenticity of his own voice, regardless of what credits they give him. This made me think!

  2. It's a very difficult issue, even when a licensing option is given. It becomes a representation of the work could long be associated with the original work, or even Eclipse it, as in the case of Mary Poppins. The recent Mr. Banks movie has been in a news a lot lately, and it seems to represent a very unfair picture of this very issue, a disrespectful portrayal of a women who was afraid of exactly what happened--the integrity of her original book was eclipsed by a Disney film that did not reflect the intent of the original work.

    And even when permission isn't given, you get films after the authors death that twist the original work into something that has little relationship to the tone or intent of the original, like the many recent live action and animated Dr. Seuss movies.

    But this stuff in many ways is inevitable. You just have to make peace with it. In this case, a little justice can still be done.