The odd case of Howard Cantour.com

Shia LaBeouf is not exactly a popular figure in our nerdy little corner of fandom.  Perhaps its his roles on less-popular versions of popular franchises (Indiana Jones, Transformers), but when his name pops up, fans often react with more ire and less support.  Maybe it’s justified, maybe it’s not.

But with the news coming out about LaBeouf this week, it’s hard to show any love for the guy.

On Monday, LaBeouf released online Howard Cantour.com, an 11-minute short film he wrote and directed, starring Jim Gaffigan.  He had debuted it last year at the Cannes Film Festival and apparently gotten praise for it.

Within hours of the film’s online release, fans and critics began throwing up warning flags.  The plot and script seemed familiar to the 2007 comic Justin M. Damiano by Dan Clowes (creator of Ghost World).  And not in the way that Fighting Patriot seems familiar to Captain America in the homage sense.  Except for some small changes, LaBeouf had basically made a film adaptation of Clowes’s work, complete with DIRECT usages of dialogue from the script (including the opening monologue).

“A critic is a warrior, and each of us on the battlefield have the means to glorify or demolish (whether a film, a career, or an entire philosophy) by influencing perception in ways that if heartfelt and truthful, can have far-reaching repercussions.”

The problem is that LaBeouf did not seek permission from Clowes to use his work in film, nor did he provide any credit or compensation for the work.  In fact Clowes first heard of the film on Monday when various sources began asking him about it upon the online release.

“The first I ever heard of the film was this morning when someone sent me a link. I’ve never spoken to or met Mr. LaBeouf,” Clowes told BuzzFeed. “I’ve never even seen one of his films that I can recall — and I was shocked, to say the least, when I saw that he took the script and even many of the visuals from a very personal story I did six or seven years ago and passed it off as his own work. I actually can’t imagine what was going through his mind.”

When the criticism started flying, LaBeouf began owning up to the matter via Twitter, first saying it was an honor to be copying, then saying he got overexcited about the whole process and got carried away, and ultimately settling on “I f*cked up”.  If you want a little more humor on the matter, the first tweet he sent seemed to be a copy of someone else’s words from a Yahoo! Answers page, but that’s beyond the point.

As far as blunders go, this is a pretty major one.  Not only did LaBeouf make the film without the knowledge or permission of the source’s creator, but he passed it off as his own work for over a year and took credit for it during that time.  It speaks volumes of LaBeouf’s character and ego that he would voluntarily release the film to the online public and not expect something like this to come back at him.

You cannot simply take someone’s work and make an adaptation of it without asking them.  The most basic sense of copyright allows a creator to get compensation when his work is used by another.  That also gives the creator the right to give (and withhold) permission to even have his work used for something.  Perhaps LaBeouf thought that Clowes would be impressed by the adaptation.  Perhaps he thought no one would notice.

But going forward, anything that he tries to make will undoubtedly be run over with a fine-toothed comb looking for any and every possible signs of plagiarism by fans who really have nothing better to do with their time.

But that’s LaBeouf’s personal problem and he’s earned that.  The bigger matter here is that it got this far with it before someone called him on it.  I really cannot think of another example this blatant.  Clowes is reportedly looking at his legal options, and you can bet that before this is over, he will get not only credit for his work, but also compensation for the matter.

And Shia LaBeouf will become even more disliked in the comic community.

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