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"Authorship Is Censorship" – Bleeding Cool In Conversation With Shia LaBeouf

Photo by Georges Biard
Photo by Georges Biard

Almost two years ago, writer/director/actor/comics creator  Shia LaBeouf contacted Bleeding Cool about the mini-comics he was creating and selling at Meltdown Comics in LA.

After the skywriting stunt yesterday, and the continual "repurposed" apologies to Dan Clowes from other people, over the plagiarism of Clowes' work in LaBeouf's most recent short film, I came across the address again.

I sent an e-mail. Minutes later I had a reply. And so last night, I was up until half past three, deep in conversation with the man about art, apology and plagiarism. Here's how it went down. And a quick Google search indicates that they appear to be in Shia's own words as well.

Richard Johnston: Tweeting with the voice of others. Is this art?

Shia LaBeouf: What does an artist do – they just point and say look at this.

RJ: No, that's what a critic does. I am certainly interested though.

SL: I agree with Julian Schnabel , Jeff koons, Duchamp ect……
You agree with?

RJ: Scott McCloud.


SL: Cool, u stick with ur squad
I'm good with mine
Live good player

RJ: Do you believe art needs an audience? When they point and say "look at this" do they need to be speaking to anyone other than themselves?

SL: Of course – art is not about itself, but the attention we bring to it. (UPDATE – Duchamp)
Art is a lie the makes us realize the truth. (UPDATE – Pica
In the 21st century there is NO personal language.
Just personal selection of language.
We are products of editing. (UPDATE – George Ward)
Not authorship.
Appropriation has been the most influential theme in art sense the 70s.
If you look at Warhol's work and say " oh well he didn't paint that – its just silk screens "
Your missing the point.
Our notion of genius- a romantic – isolated figure – is fucking outdated
An updated notion of genius would have to center around ones mastery of information (UPDATE – see footnote below)
And it's dissemination
It's the 21st century, thug life
It wants to be fee.

RJ: Well, Warhol said art is what you can get away with. Gaugin went for "Art is either plagiarism or revolution". Do you believe that opportunity is still valid, or is it all about plagiarism now?

As for "it wants to be fee" – is that a Freudian slip? Information may want to be free. But should the author be able to demand a fee?

SL: Authorship is censorship
Should God sue me if I paint a river?
Should we give people the death sentence for parking violations-
You'll not only have less parking violations but less DRIVERS.

RJ: Jung said the only way to achieve true selfhood is to create what no one but you could possibly create and all the other stories are just guides to get us there.

I think God's rights to rivers have entered into public domain now.

I don't believe that parking violations deserve the death sentence. However fines are meant to be paid. If you park on someone else's driveway, you should probably ask permission first. And hotwiring someone else's car and taking it for a spin, is also frowned upon.

SL: The word law is against my principles.
The problem begins with the legal fact that authorship is inextricably
bound up in the idea of ownership and the idea of language as
Intellectual property. Language and ideas flow freely between people
Despite the law. (UPDATE: Gregory Betts) It's not plagiarism in the digital age – it's repurposing. (UPDATE: Kenneth Goldsmith)
Copyright law has to give up on its obsession with "the copy" (UPDATE- Lawrence Lessig)
The law should not regulate "copy's" or "reproductions" on there own.
It should instead regulate uses – like public distributions of copyrighted work –
That connect directly to the economic incentive copyright law was intended to foster. (UPDATE: Lawrence Lessig)
The author was the person who had been authorized by the state to print there work.
They were the ones to be held accountable for the ideas.
Simple – should creation have to check with a lawyer?

RJ: Do you recognize an inherent hypocrisy in your principles, in that you are a direct beneficiary of current copyright law, in that you have financially benefited from it to a far greater extent than most authors will ever achieve? That your acting work that has netted you millions and given you the financial independence that the vast majority of people can only dream of, is inherently a result of such laws? And that speaking or working against them in this fashion when they are the very reason that your word carries such weight and impact, can rub the wrong way those who rely on such laws to earn a small living? Can you hold a principle, when you reason you can hold it so comfortably is that you have benefited from the opposite of that principle being maintained?

But I come back to the original question. Is the repurposing of other people's apologies for your own on Twitter art… or laziness? Is it an attempt to create, or is it simple dickishness? Can it be both? Is there an inherent hypocrisy in apologising for reproducing someone's work without their permission on film, by reproducing other people's work without their permission on social media? Is it all part of a wider plan, a wider statement, a wider artistic endeavour, or is an attempt to wind people up? Or is it both?

SL: Both
I never asked to be paid
And never profited off anyone's back
acting is Plagiarism
Like magicians
We tell you we're gonna lie to you

RJ: You have an agent. You have lawyers. Do you not pay them to ask for you to be paid, on your behalf? Aren't you just outsourcing the request to be paid?

And can acting be plagiarism when it is being conducted with the author or owner's approval, when they are credited as author or owner, when they are paid as author or owner?

When you apologize, Shia, is that the truth?

SL: I'm very sorry
I have agents to suss out material
I have a lawyer to get me out of jail
Nothing is original
Creativity is just connecting things (UPDATE: Steve Jobs)


And with that, we left it. The conversation continues, if only in our own heads.

If you quote from this conversation, Bleeding Cool would appreciate a mention, though Shia doesn't mind too much, it seems. Also I'd like to credit Hannah Means-Shannon for the Jungian point.

UPDATE: We are updating any plagiarisms made by Shia in this interview within the piece, but this was offline and too big.

"our notion of genius — a romantic isolated figure — is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one's mastery of information and its dissemination." – Uncreative Writing by Kenneth Goldsmith.

Thanks to Dr. Darren Wershler. Concordia University Research Chair in Media and Contemporary Literature, for that spot. Also, thanks to OhSnapSki and Glitchy.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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