Shia Labeouf's Plagiarism Controversy

Shia Labeouf's Plagiarism Controversy

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Updated Feb 27, 2014 at 03:43PM EST by Brad.

Added Jan 09, 2014 at 01:45PM EST by Molly Horan.

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Shia LaBeouf’s Plagiarism Controversy refers to the online backlash surrounding Howard, a short film about an internet film critic who faces an internal conflict as he contemplates whether to write a positive or negative review for an upcoming film. Upon its online premiere in December 2013, the actor-turned-director was met with accusations of plagiarizing American cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ 2007 comic Justin M. Damiano, including direct quotes, dialogues and the narrative structure.


On May 18th, 2012, LaBeouf’s short film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received critical acclaims and positive reviews, followed by its online premiere on Vimeo on December 16th, 2013.

Notable Developments

Accusations of Plagiarism

Shortly after the film was featured on Short of The Week, Twitter user John Gholson suggested that the film is based on Daniel Clowes’ Justin M. Damiano and linked to a digitally scanned copy of the original comic for comparison.

Labeouf’s Apology

Throughout the day, accusations of plagiarism against LaBeouf continued to build up momentum on Twitter[2], along with similar allegations from Clowes’ publisher and the author himself, eventually prompting the short film to be taken offline within hours of its online premiere. On the following day, Labeouf issued an apology via his Twitter handle @thecampaignbook,[3] which read:

“Copying isn’t particularly creative work. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work. 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 I fucked up.”


On December 17th, Tim Carvel[7], a writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, introduced the Twitter hashtag #shialabeouffilms to mock LaBeouf’s copying of another artist’s work, which soon became associated with well-known film titles that have been reworded to sound like knock-offs, such as “WALL-F” (WALL-E) and “A Story About Some Talking Toys” (Toy Story).

Apology Plagiarism

That same day, the story took an unexpected turn when Twitter user Andrew Hake further accused the actor of plagiarizing the apology from a Yahoo Answers submitted by user Lili in February 2010.

Merely copying isn’t particularly creative work, though it’s useful as training and practice. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work, and it may even revolutionalize the “stolen” concept."[5]

Despite this revelation, LaBeouf continued to tweet apologetic messages that had been previously quoted by other celebrities, such as Alec Baldwin and Russell Crowe, without providing any attribution.

Skywriting Apology

On January 1st, 2014, LeBeouf hired a skywriter to write the message “I am sorry Daniel Clowes” above Los Angeles, California. and tweeted[6] a picture of it:

- vapor floating in the atmosphere
- remote servers used to SHARE DATA

Cease-and-Desist Letter

On January 7th, LaBeouf tweeted a photograph of a storyboard from his upcoming project “Daniel Boring” with the caption “Storyboard for my next short “Daniel Boring” and the hashtag “#original.” However, it was quickly revealed to be a direct lift of Clowes’ comic “David Boring.” The next day, LaBeouf posted a picture of a cease-and-desist letter he received from Clowes’ lawyer via Twitter.[8] The letter, which asks LaBeouf to avoid any further copyright infringement of Clowes’ work, included the photograph of the “David Boring” storyboard tweeted by the actor as a reference.

LaBeouf’s Retirement

On January 10th, 2014 LaBeouf announced his retirement from public life via his Twitter feed.

here is some question about whether the actor’s withdrawal from public life will happen immediately or after the two-part release of his upcoming movie Nymphomaniac[9] on March 21st and April 18th, 2014.[9]


In continuing his social media antics, LaBeouf also tweeted the phrase “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” more than 20 times between January 13th and February 9th.

On February 9th, while attending a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival to promote Lars von Trier’s forthcoming two-part drama film Nymphomaniac, LaBeouf broke his long silence by quoting French soccer player Eric Cantona before inexplicably walking away.

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

He then walked the festival’s red carpet while wearing a paper bag with the words “I am not famous anymore” written on the front (shown below).

#IAmSorry Art Exhibit

On February 11th, 2014, LaBeouf opened an art exhibit titled “#IAMSORRY,” in which participants were told to choose an object off a table containing a whip, a copy of the novel The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes, a bottle of cologne, a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, a ukulele, a bottle of whiskey, a bowl of containing angry tweets directed at LaBeouf, a pair of pliers and an Optimus Prime action figure (shown below).

Visitors were then led into a room with LaBeouf seated at a table wearing a suit and a paper bag over his head with the words “I am not famous anymore” written on the front. That day, several Twitter users posted photographs outside the building, along with their reactions to the exhibit itself.

Also on February 11th, The Daily Beast[10] published an article about the art project, which highlighted a photograph of LaBeouf crying at a table in front of the bowl containing tweets written on slips of paper (shown below). In the coming days, several other news sites published articles about the art exhibit, including Vice,[11] The Daily Dot,[12] UpRoxx,[13] BuzzFeed,[14] Time,[15] NY Daily News[16] and TMZ.[17]

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