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Plagiarism rarely makes the front pages or top headline positions, but Shia LaBeouf managed to bring what’s normally a minor matter of literary and artistic infighting, as far as the media is concerned, to global attention. The story of how he used the plot, and even the dialog, of  Justin M. Damiano, a short strip by graphic artist and sometime screenwriter Daniel Clowes, for his own short film HowardCantour.com, without crediting the author, is now being dissected and argued over across the media and the blogosphere.

Daniel Clowes – not Shia LaBeouf. Courtesy of Daniel Clowes.

LaBeouf’s apologetic tweets post the discovery of the whole incident ran: “”In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation … Im embarrassed that I failed to credit @danielclowes for his original graphic novella Justin M. Damiano, which served as my inspiration .. I was truly moved by his piece of work & I knew that it would make a poignant & relevant short. I apologize to all who assumed I wrote it … “I deeply regret the manner in which these events have unfolded and want @danielclowes to know that I have a great respect for his work.” Clowes’s actual original work can be seen here. LaBeouf’s film is reviewed here by IndieWire, which described it as ” a surprisingly successful movie on the experience of watching a movie that should only serve to encourage LaBeouf to further test the directorial waters,” which  “debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and screened at the Aspen Shortsfest.” The actual work, though, has disappeared from IndieWire‘s page, as it has apparently from most previous links.

One of the bizarre aspects of the whole affair is that Daniel Clowes is hardly unknown in the screen world, and anyone from that circuit plagiarising his work would face greater than usual risk of discovery from the start. According to his own bio, his joint script for the film adaptation of his cult hit strip Ghost World, with a cast including Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi, won an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2001, and he has done some other script work as well. Plus,  Justin M. Damiano is actually about a film critic, and LaBeouf ‘s name must have ensured that his work received heightened attention from … film critics. It’s almost as though LaBeouf was inviting exposure.

And why do it at all? Would there have been any shame to openly adapt Clowes’s work into a short film? If anything, LaBeouf would probably have won further credit for taking up material from such a well-respected artist. As so often, though, the psychology of plagiarism remains a mystery.

 
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