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Following the discovery that Shia LaBeouf’s 2012 short film HowardCantour.com is a nearly exact adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ 2007 comic Justin M. Damiano — minus the credit or permission from the actor — the Transformers actor took to Twitter Monday night to offer an apology and respond to rapidly growing accusations of plagiarism.
In a series of tweets, LaBeouf wrote (slightly edited for format), “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. I’m 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.”
About an hour later, the actor wrote succinctly, “I fucked up.”
LaBeouf’s words didn’t sit well with many observers, including comedian and occasional comic book writer Patton Oswalt, who called the apology “bullshit.” As has been pointed out, LaBeouf’s apology appeared to indicate what he believed missing from the short film was credit to Clowes, when in fact he did not have any legal right to adapt Justin M. Damiano. As Clowes told BuzzFeed, not only did he not give permission for the film, he was not aware of it until this week.
Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds, who has worked with Clowes on multiple projects, told BuzzFeed that LaBeouf’s tweets are a “non-apology,” and that Clowes is pursuing legal options. “No one ‘assumes’ authorship for no reason,” Reynolds wrote to the site. “He [LaBeouf] implied authorship in the film credits itself, and has gone even further in interviews. He clearly doesn’t get it, and that’s disturbing. I’m not sure if it’s more disturbing that he plagiarized, or that he could rationalize it enough to think it was OK and that he might actually get away with it. Fame clearly breeds a false sense of security.”
The apology prompted further scrutiny — and general befuddlement — when it was reported by outlets such as Vulture that it appears it was copied, as well, at least in part. A four-year-old thread on Yahoo! Answers contained a very similar response to the start of LaBeouf’s statement, with a user named “Lili” writing about the “good artists copy but great artists steal” quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: “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.”
CBR News contacted the manager of HowardCantour.com star Jim Gaffigan, who responded, “Jim was an actor for hire on this project and had no creative input. We were all as surprised by this news as everybody else.”
Following the apology, The Wrap reported that LaBeouf is hoping to “work out a deal” to give Clowes proper credit, which “may include a monetary settlement of some kind.”