Copycat- The Sky’s the limit

The first Monday of 2014 has been labelled Blue Monday, Massive Monday, and the most depressing day of the year, so this Kat thought she would try to cheer up her readers by recounting a recent tale from the bright lights of Hollywood.

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are ubiquitous topics in the world of film and television and 2014 appears to be no exception.

The opening curtain of this year lifted to drama and much criticism for actor turned director Shia LaBeouf.

Mr LaBeouf took the art of apologising to new heights (or perhaps new lows), by skywriting an apology to comic book author Daniel Clowes after he was accused of plagiarising Clowes’ work in his new short film which was released online in December.                                               
According to the Independentviewers noted that dialogue and many visuals had been taken from Clowes’ similar “very personal” story Justin M Damiano without a credit” (please note, this Kat would firmly like to acknowledge and credit the Independent Online for the quote). 

Not only were the themes in the short film similar (Mr LaBeouf’s film also centres around a jaded and disillusioned film critic), but the opening monologue of the film was an exact replica of Clowes’ work. 

The skywriting was not the young actor’s first attempt at an apology.  Before LaBeouf took to the skies he had attempted to apologise via a series of tweets, which ironically had themselves been copied from other various famous apologies, notably an extract taken from the 2012 apology by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

LaBeouf’s scenes were not at an end here either - he then took to Twitter once more to apologise for his already plagiarised tweets by plagiarising yet another famous apology (this time by film director Lars von Trier after he was banned from the Cannes Film Festival.) 

The row has since sparked once more following a series of tweets posted by Mr LaBouef which included a storyboard for a short called ‘Daniel Boring’, which is remarkably similar to Clowes's ‘David Boring’. The storyboard was described by LaBeouf as "Fassbinder meets half-baked Nabokov on Gilligan's Island", which is also the exact description Clowes himself used to describe his work. This was accompanied by a cease and desist letter, which it appears LaBeouf has received from Clowes’ lawyers.

The offending storyboard

The row has now escalated, from the allegations of plagiarism banded around in the media, to an allegation of copyright infringement against the young actor. 

Plagiarism itself is not an illegal act (although highly unethical and unadvisable). However, the act of directly copying the ‘expression of ideas’ of someone’s work without their consent is.

The original short film has now been removed from the internet and LaBeouf has stated that he will credit Mr Clowes in it.

However, there is now the question of whether or not LaBeouf’s tweets might constitute copyright infringement [see recent IPKat article here].  It appears that Mr Clowes’s lawyers would argue this is the case.
While we await the outcome of this particular fracas, this is a timely reminder to film makers and directors to obtain consents and provide appropriate acknowledgements when using the third party materials. If you are going to be a copycat, make sure you don’t follow the example and actions of Mr LaBeouf!
Copycat- The Sky’s the limit Copycat- The Sky’s the limit Reviewed by Unknown on Thursday, January 09, 2014 Rating: 5

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