Creative People Stealing

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I don’t pay attention to most of pop culture – what a bad consumer I am – but I hear about things second hand. It comes with biased commentary, of course, but sometimes it seems…improbable I could sympathize with the other side.

Shia LeBeouf is a plagiarist. A short film he just made, Howard Cantour.com, is criticized as a nearly exact copy of the work of cartoonist and writer Daniel Clowes (of Ghost World fame). I don’t give a shit about either of those people so I don’t feel offended either way, but I have expressed objections to uncredited usage and plagiarism of artists’ work. Allegedly his apology was plagiarized too – saying that as a creative person he gets lost in the creative process and doesn’t realize he’s not creating. Bravo, guy who stumbled upon luck in Hollywood and wants to branch out.

Through social media I follow more independent artists than other entertainment personalities, so my perspective comes largely from a limited range of angles. However, I also happen to think it’s the most solid range of angles – the people who put daily effort into individual or small group creative pursuits and rely on that for a living. Their work is not so widely known that a large portion of the population would be able to spot theft so quickly. It’s also not so widely known that it’s immensely profitable, as so much of what comes from Hollywood and other entertainment marketing meccas is. The breadth of social media’s reach and speed of passing on information makes it easier for someone who does recognize the plagiarism to call the thief out on it and for word to spread about where it really came from. The other side of the coin is that social media spreads unattributed artwork like the plague, and if it doesn’t involve Shia LeBeouf the word that content was stolen might not reach most of the people who have been exposed to it as plagiarized material.

A friend of mine who works in academia shares stories of the number of student papers that fail a computer check of plagiarism – meeting levels of 80, 90, 100 per cent stolen content. Quoting sources will always put the percentage at a certain point, and some sentences will be identical by honest coincidence. (This has also happened in the web comic world when Nedroid Picture Diary repeated the basis of a joke that was already written in an xkcd comic some time before.) Some people are too naive or ignorant to know where the line of too much copying is drawn – but they have to learn bluntly by facing similar consequences to willful and knowing thieves. Fail them. Boycott their stolen work. Raise awareness of the problem.

I really don’t see how someone could take Shia’s side on this.

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