Dear Shia LaBeouf, Stop stealing other people’s shit (A point-by-point rebuttal of Shia LaBeouf’s anti-IP law stance)

In an attempt to understand Shia LaBeouf’s increasingly bizarre efforts to apologize for plagiarizing Daniel Clowes’ comic Justin M. Damiano for a short film he directed titled, Rich Johnston at BleedingCool reached out to LaBeouf and engaged in an email exchange in which LaBeouf made every hack’s argument for why he should be entitled to steal other people’s shit. (Basically, technology. Also, because fuck you, that’s why.) So here is my point-by-point rebuttal to LaBeouf’s anti-IP stance. Which, it should be noted, is the common defense made by every dumb fuck who steals someone else’s shit because they’re inherently incapable of coming up with anything on their own.

My text is in red.

Richard Johnston: Tweeting with the voice of others. Is this art?

Shia LaBeouf: What does an artist do – they just point and say look at this.

[No, an artist has a specific thought/idea/vision and then works in a chosen medium in order to translate that thought/idea/vision for the edification of others. Pointing at things and saying “look” is what five year olds do.]

RJ: No, that’s what a critic does. I am certainly interested though.

[Or critics.]

SL: I agree with Julian Schnabel , Jeff koons, Duchamp ect……
You agree with?

[Marcel Duchamp made “Fountain” in 1917, repurposing a urinal and signing it R. Mutt before submitting it for an exhibition in New York. At no point did Marcel Duchamp claim to have invented the urinal.]

RJ: Scott McCloud.

McCloud toon

SL: Cool, u stick with ur squad
I’m good with mine
Live good player

[But do you understand that “ur squad” didn’t plagiarize anything? They repurposed things, but repurposing happens in context, and depends on the viewer knowing that context to understand the act of repurposing. Plagiarism happens in a void—to quote myself, “If you’ve got the goods, you don’t need to steal.” You don’t have the goods, do you?]

RJ: Do you believe art needs an audience? When they point and say “look at this” do they need to be speaking to anyone other than themselves?

SL: Of course – art is not about itself, but the attention we bring to it.

[Debatable. I know an artist who only constructs his installations in the middle of nowhere, with no intention of people seeing them, because he believes in creating for creation’s sake. That’s no less valid than an artist who seeks an audience.]
Art is a lie the makes us realize the truth. (UPDATE – Picasso)

[That doesn’t mean you get to lie about everything, dude. It just means that Picasso thinks that art is a mere representation of something that the artist alone understands and is attempting to elucidate for others. He’s basically distilling Plato’s Cave into one sentence.]
In the 21st century there is NO personal language.

[Are you referring to artistic languages like Vulcan and Dothraki? Or is this your way of saying no one has original rhetoric anymore?]
Just personal selection of language.

[So no one has original rhetoric and we’re all just “selecting” language. You do know that’s what personal language, is, though, right? We each speak our own unique dialect determined by regional and cultural influences, idioms and common knowledge. As speakers of American English, we share a common alphabet and lexicon, but I guarantee you will use words and phrases that I do not, and vice versa. Because each person’s speech is personal to them. Maybe throw some linguistics and semiotics into the mix with the rest of your art theory. Or at least read the Wikis.]
We are products of editing.

[If by “editing” you mean that sometimes we apply tact and courtesy in order to not be complete assholes to one another, then sure, yeah. We all edit.]
Not authorship.

[As an author, I beg to differ. I write original stuff all the time. My electrical persona via this website and others is entirely the product of my original authorship.]
Appropriation has been the most influential theme in art sense the 70s.

[Stopped at Andy Warhol, did we?]
If you look at Warhol’s work and say “oh well he didn’t paint that – its just silk screens ”
Your missing the point.

[You’re also missing the point. First, the debate between mechanical and hand-made processes in art at least goes back to John Ruskin and The Stones of Venice (1851), though Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) is the more relevant modern text. I doubt you’ve read them—or anything to do with art history before 1950—otherwise you would surely have plagiarized them by now. Second, alongside Warhol’s use of manufacturing techniques like silk screening, he was controversial for repurposing common household items like Campbell soup cans and Brillo soap boxes. Warhol himself cited Duchamp as his inspiration—HE GAVE PUBLIC CREDIT TO SOMEONE ELSE FOR INSPIRING HIM.]
Our notion of genius- a romantic – isolated figure – is fucking outdated

[Yes, it is, and it’s also quite a modern notion, being largely popularized by mopey Lord Byron in the early 19th century. Prior to that, geniuses were generally considered hardworking people with multi-disciplinary interests. In the Renaissance, geniuses frequently ran workshops that employed dozens of assistants and apprentices. For that matter, we know exactly which of Shakespeare’s plays had co-authors, and which he wrote entirely on his own. No one really has a problem with the idea of a genius having help. But “tortured loner artist” makes for quick visual shorthand in movies, that’s true.]
An updated notion of genius would have to center around ones mastery of information

And it’s dissemination (UPDATE: “our notion of genius — a romantic isolated figure — is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination.” – Uncreative Writing by Kenneth Goldsmith.)

[So a person who knows a lot of stuff is a genius? Isn’t that what they’ve always been? People who know lots of stuff, and are good at things? And then create some kind of proof of this genius, be it thesis, book, painting or song, thus disseminating the record of their genius to others?]

It’s the 21st century, thug life

[Says the millionaire.]
It wants to be fee.

[I want to be fee, too.]

RJ: Well, Warhol said art is what you can get away with. Gaugin went for “Art is either plagiarism or revolution”. Do you believe that opportunity is still valid, or is it all about plagiarism now?

As for “it wants to be fee” – is that a Freudian slip? Information may want to be free. But should the author be able to demand a fee?

SL: Authorship is censorship

[But censorship of what? Or is it just that you get mad when people point out your tendency to steal things and think that we’re infringing on your rights by holding you accountable for that action? Hate to break it to you, but you don’t have a right to steal anything, not money, or a car or someone else’s creative property. If you recorded a version of Yesterday and then claimed it as your own, you better be prepared for Paul McCartney to sue you. You don’t own that song—IT ISN’T YOURS. You are free, however, to record your version of it and say, “Hey, this is my version of Yesterday, which is by The Beatles.” You might still have to pay a royalty, because YOU DO NOT OWN IT, but no one will call you a thief or a liar for that.]
Should God sue me if I paint a river?

[Yes. It would be hilarious.]
Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations-
You’ll not only have less parking violations but less DRIVERS.

[No one gave you the death sentence for plagiarizing, Beef. We just called you a liar and a thief, because that’s what plagiarizers are—liars and thieves.]

RJ: Jung said the only way to achieve true selfhood is to create what no one but you could possibly create and all the other stories are just guides to get us there.

I think God’s rights to rivers have entered into public domain now.

I don’t believe that parking violations deserve the death sentence. However fines are meant to be paid. If you park on someone else’s driveway, you should probably ask permission first. And hotwiring someone else’s car and taking it for a spin, is also frowned upon.

SL: The word law is against my principles.

[Well this explains everything. You get to be above the law because you don’t believe in it. But just because a person doesn’t believe in gravity doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to them anyway.]
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.

[It is plagiarism if you take someone else’s original work and claim it as your own. That is the very definition of plagiarism. The argument you’ve just made is the exact same bullshit every uncreative person who gets caught lifting someone else’s ideas spouts. Everyone feels they have the right to be creative (which is an idea I am paraphrasing from Patton Oswalt), but not everyone IS creative.]
Copyright law has to give up on its obsession with “the copy” (UPDATE- Lawrence Lessig)

[No it shouldn’t. That’s why it exists.]
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.

[That’s not a bad point, but that’s also why people don’t waste time suing twelve year olds singing Adele covers on Youtube. They aren’t making money off it, so there’s no harm. You, however, submitted your short film, which was the direct result of plagiarism, to Cannes and several other film festivals, and even if you didn’t realize a profit on it, money was still paid by members of the public in order to view it, and distributors paid to screen it. The originator of the work did not benefit from this at all, so you are in violation of copyright law. Or is that the problem? That you got caught, and the law doesn’t favor you?]
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?

[If the creation involves previously created work, then yes. But you’re right, there are a lot of old laws meant to make it difficult for people to publish dissenting political tracts, which was some bullshit censorship. But those aren’t the laws you’re in violation of; you aren’t being persecuted for publishing a pamphlet on why workers should earn a fair wage. You stole someone else’s property with the intent of profiting from it. You do get that you’re The Man here, and Daniel Clowes is the wronged underdog?]

RJ: Do you recognize an inherent hypocrisy in your principles, in that you are a direct beneficiary of current copyright law, in that you have financially benefited from it to a far greater extent than most authors will ever achieve? That your acting work that has netted you millions and given you the financial independence that the vast majority of people can only dream of, is inherently a result of such laws? And that speaking or working against them in this fashion when they are the very reason that your word carries such weight and impact, can rub the wrong way those who rely on such laws to earn a small living? Can you hold a principle, when you reason you can hold it so comfortably is that you have benefited from the opposite of that principle being maintained?

But I come back to the original question. Is the repurposing of other people’s apologies for your own on Twitter art… or laziness? Is it an attempt to create, or is it simple dickishness? Can it be both? Is there an inherent hypocrisy in apologising for reproducing someone’s work without their permission on film, by reproducing other people’s work without their permission on social media? Is it all part of a wider plan, a wider statement, a wider artistic endeavour, or is an attempt to wind people up? Or is it both?

SL: Both
I never asked to be paid

[Stop accepting paychecks then.]
And never profited off anyone’s back

[It takes hundreds of people to make a movie, and you make way more than the guy holding the boom mic, so technically…]
acting is Plagiarism

[No it isn’t. We understand that an actor is reciting lines written by someone who is credited publicly as the author of the work. That’s what acting is. We get that.]
Like magicians
We tell you we’re gonna lie to you

[Yes. We know that going in. That’s why acting is not plagiarism. Because the falsehood of acting is part of acting. Plagiarism, however, is a theft and a cover up rolled into one. All you had to do was credit Daniel Clowes and no one would give a shit about your short film. I mean, it was getting good reviews, but no one would have cared that you were inspired by someone else. In fact, a lot of people probably would have appreciated you promoting Clowes’ work.]

RJ: You have an agent. You have lawyers. Do you not pay them to ask for you to be paid, on your behalf? Aren’t you just outsourcing the request to be paid?

And can acting be plagiarism when it is being conducted with the author or owner’s approval, when they are credited as author or owner, when they are paid as author or owner?

When you apologize, Shia, is that the truth?

SL: I’m very sorry

[Doubtful. Or, you’re sorry you got caught. Because you really do not seem to understand what has everyone so upset in the first place.]
I have agents to suss out material
I have a lawyer to get me out of jail

[And your agents and lawyers also negotiate your contracts. They do that. Just because you don’t want to admit it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Again, gravity still applies to you.]
Nothing is original

[True. East of Eden is just Cain & Abel, retold. But Steinbeck did it in a way wholly different from the Bible and unique to his own voice and perspective. Which makes it an original telling.]
Creativity is just connecting things

[No it isn’t, but this is the thing non-creative people get hung up on. Because THEY cannot create, they assume NO ONE can create. But the truth is, not everyone can create.]

[But anyone can be a douchebag and steal.]

4 thoughts on “Dear Shia LaBeouf, Stop stealing other people’s shit (A point-by-point rebuttal of Shia LaBeouf’s anti-IP law stance)

  1. Tasha

    I love that the only point that you concede that has validity is something Shia copied from someone else (being Lawrence Lessig). Haha

  2. Fair play to you for using cogent arguments here Sarah because when I read what Shia’s saying it comes across like the tweets of Jaden Smith. Fair play to Rich too for keeping his head.

    1. Every argument he made is something I’ve heard before, and always from people who are trying to excuse plagiarism. They’re arguments I’ve had to make before, so I know them well. And, I have an art degree, so the minute he goes into art theory it’s like, oh buddy, you’re sunk.

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