As many of you have found out in recent weeks and months, Shia LaBeouf is a prolific plagiarizer. It’s not just that he has stolen whole works, but, in fact, even takes quotes as his own in the midst of interviews. Even his attempts to tweet apologies for his plagiarism are stolen material. In fact, as far as I’m aware, the only thing Shia LaBeouf has ever done that is 100% original to himself is say his name.
And while I’m willing to forgive that… he has to go.
Shia is a man who has spent his entire career, since childhood, on what could be considered the bottom rung of the creative world. His big break was one of those annoying Disney Channel original series that generated nothing but burnouts and remnants of what used to be promising actors and actresses. In the world of art, Shia LaBeouf is the abused dog that went nuts and attacked its master. This is especially apt when considering that he now rails against copyright, something his former handlers at Disney are notoriously obsessive and manipulative about. So when he turns out to be incapable of creating and maintaining an artistic persona in public without stealing from writers, I can do more than forgive it, I can understand it.
What I cannot abide, however, is the attitude and mentality which he has adopted in defense of his lack of creativity and ethics. In his interview to Bleeding Cool recently, following the infamous skywriting incident, he proposed that his plagiarism was a true art form unto itself and that any artist is actually doing exactly what he has already done. In a great show of balls he did this by plagiarizing quotes from famous artists, simultaneously doubling down on the plagiarism, appealing to authority and trying to appear smarter than he is. The lines not drawn from others display a severe lack of self-awareness:
“I never asked to be paid and never profited off anyone’s back”
Things like this are frustrating in themselves, and they made me yell “bullshit” at my screen a couple times, but they are not what makes him truly dangerous. No, the thing that makes Shia an undesirable element in this debate is shit like this:
“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.”
“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.”
Those are the beginnings of an incredibly dangerous idea that Shia is too far removed from to understand. If someone were to steal from him, a man who has been given millions of dollars to star in not too good movies, then he would likely never notice it. But now he is standing in defense of the idea that, with the dawn of the digital age, all copyright is hereby moot and shouldn’t be enforced on anything more than direct copies. Some would say this would sound like fair use, which makes room for legitimate derivatives. I would argue that Shia’s actions are a threat to fair use too by conflating what he’s done to what that doctrine would cover.
Understand, by Shia’s arguments, the difference between plagiarism and theft is whether or not you’re distributing the original, completely unaltered copies. In other words, if you were to do a film of my books, or edit the names and places in them and sold the new versions, that would be theoretically legal in Shia’s world. No form of the fair use doctrine would look at that and determine it as legitimate fair use, and if we were to conflate what he’s done with fair use, it would run the risk of tarnishing legitimate fair use by relation. Fair use was created to protect the likes of criticism, education, parody, and other derivatives which do not prevent the original author from profiting from their work. But in Shia’s case, he’s stolen that opportunity from the creator in whole – and he feels justified.
In essence, because money doesn’t matter to him, seeing as he has so much, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else if someone copies their work. After all, to him, it’s still just “art” even if you didn’t create the original work. In fact, he says that not allowing people to steal from artists is stifling the creation of “new” artists in this… horrible analogy:
“Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations- You’ll not only have less parking violations but less DRIVERS.”
Aside from being a strawman argument, it also misses the point that the true threat to artists in today’s age isn’t necessarily the excessive enforcement of copyright but rather a dangerous lack of clarity in the copyright laws for our new age. In today’s age, it’s incredibly difficult to monetize your work because it is so difficult to control what belongs to whom and in what fashion – particularly when the other side has more resources. Independent artists, and people making legitimate fair use derivatives, are constantly having their rights violated by people who have better resources and connections. In fact, a major problem in recent times was Youtube’s new copyright control filters that have caused problems for people who have not strictly broken any actual copyright laws.
They’re playing within the rules, unlike Shia, but can do little to protect their legitimate works in the current system.
That’s why Shia is so dangerous right now. With the waters being so incredibly muddy, we can’t risk a megaphone being in the hands of someone who is not truly equipped to speak on this subject. Fair or unfair, Shia’s position as a member of the wealthy elite makes it incredibly easy for him to sway public opinion in his favor or damage their understanding of the current issues. And if anyone needs to see how it’s dangerous to have a poorly equipped person placed at the center of a movement, look no further than Jenny McCarthy’s impact on medical issues.
The answers on what is and isn’t worthy of copyright enforcement on the internet are still not entirely clear. What is entirely clear is that Shia LaBeouf cannot be allowed to dictate that conversation. After all, we can’t afford to give undue weight to his argument that small artists should no longer be able protect their work from people like him.
Now, as tradition, I close these blog posts with a Youtube video. And today will be no different. But seeing as this is a serious topic for me, I think it’d be best to post a serious video. So for an opinion on copyright enforcement with a more balanced and reasonable approach, I turn to Angry Joe – a man who has had to deal with his legitimate fair use being attacked.
Reasonable copyright control to protect artists and derivatives both. Yo Joe.
And P.S. If Angry Joe ever wants me to take the video down? It’s his work, his say, and that’s way it’s supposed to work.