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Keratin Adam Ellis Plagiarism Controversy refers to an accusation by comic artist Adam Ellis that the award-winning short film Keratin by Andrew Butler and James Wilson plagiarized one of his comics. The comic and film both involve a man clipping one of his fingernails and burying it underground. When the man checks the next day, a person has grown in the spot his fingernail was. Ellis alleges the film is a shot-for-shot remake of his comic and while the directors have admitted they were inspired by "an online comic," they have not credited Ellis for the work.
On July 26th, 2018, Ellis uploaded a comic in which his stand-in character cuts a fingernail, buries it, and returns the next day to find a human in its place. The post gained over 360,000 likes on Instagram (shown below).
Ellis further alleged:
They emailed me in October, when the film was making festival rounds, & asked me to HELP PROMOTE it. When I told them I didn't approve of it and asked them to pull it from festivals, they ghosted me for months. Now they've premiered it on
@WeAreDN, & don't even credit me by name.
The comic they stole is deeply personal to me, maybe the most personal comic I've ever made. I drew it shortly after I left my day job because of disputes over ownership of my personal work. The comic is about self-care, reinvention, and personal growth.
He provided multiple screenshots demonstrating how the film stole shots from his comic (shown below).
In the interview with Director's Note, directors Andrew Butler and James Wilson state, "The original concept (for the film) was inspired by a short online cartoon we saw which we developed further, drawing on our love for dystopian stories and imagery."
After Ellis' allegation, Keratin was removed from Vimeo. Director's Notes removed the interview from their website and released a statement on February 2nd. The statement reads:
Upon discovering this we immediately reached out to Ellis to discuss the matter further (via Instagram DM) and to Butler and James (via email) asking them to clarify the situation – to which they declined to comment – and removed the interview from our pages.
For clarity, we would like to state that Directors Notes was in no way involved with the creation of Keratin nor have we profited from the film's existence. We are however regretful to have used our platform to help promote the film. Had the full facts of its genesis been made clear to us at the time would have declined to run the interview.
Ellis received mostly encouragement from people responding to his accusation on social media. Many commenters, including @RobCabrera, stated Ellis had a strong legal case if he decided to sue the directors for copyright infringement (shown below, left). Others were less sympathetic; user @post_prufrock responded "the film looks better" in the replies, gaining over 600 likes (shown below, right).
Prolific Pen Comics Accusation
Ellis defended himself by saying his comic was a redraw of one he'd done in 2012 (shown below, left). User @Q_Review looked into Ellis' claim and could not find the comic on Ellis' old blog. He also noticed that the style of the old comic Ellis used to defend himself did not align with his style at the time. Based on this, he accused Ellis of quickly drawing up the "old" comic and doctoring a screenshot to make it look as though he came up with it first (shown below, right).
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