February has been great for people who love hating things (scientific name: “the internet”). The current entry in the Hate of the Month Club is “extremely powerful people who blatantly plagiarize from The Everyman.” Two major cases have proven so viscerally loathsome, so deeply satisfying to hate, that I need a cigarette and a stern talking-to from HR.
We all already kind of hated the game Candy Crush Saga, because of its reliance on fun-killing microtransactions, the endless Facebook posts about our coworker’s newest high score, and the fact that we missed our nephew’s birth because we were playing Candy Crush Saga. Lucky for us, we get a brand-new reason to hate Candy Crush Saga developer King: this open letter from the developer of a mobile game called CandySwipe.
Because I am a paragon of journalistic integrity, as long as it involves getting to play video games, I downloaded and played both titles. Turns out they really don’t have much in common, gameplay-wise. CandySwipe is also kind of a mess – unattractive, difficult to play, and it goes right up to the top of the screen so swiping candies will regularly pull down your phone’s update menu. That said, the Candy Crush “Sweet!” graphic clearly comes from CandySwipe, and possibly other design elements as well. And, more importantly, this is not the only easy-to-prove plagiarism for Candy Crush Saga: the gameplay is identical to PopCap’s Bejeweled game. Right? Identical. I feel like a crazy person that this isn’t brought up more.
Rather than saying, “Listen, Candy Crush Saga and CandySwipe really aren’t that similar,” King bought an old trademark that preceded CandySwipe so they could countersue its developer, saying that it was actually THEY who had the oldest trademark. So I guess King is a Disney Channel Original Movie villain now. Plus, they’ve trademarked the words “Candy” and “Saga” as it relates to games, which is A) totally bonkers, like, what?? How is that even possible?? and B) infringing on Banner Saga’s ability to release a sequel, which is a travesty.
The second recent hate-porn is, of course, the prolonged Shia LaBeouf meltdown. Quick recap for our readers just waking up from a coma: Shia released a movie called HowardCantour.com, which, turns out, was copied almost word-for-word, shot-for-shot from a Daniel Clowes comic called Justin M. Damiano. In response, Shia released an apology letter, which was plagiarized from a Yahoo! Answers article about how to apologize. And then he – you know what, just read this.
At some point in that extended bout of nonsense, Shia LaBeouf decided that his plagiarism was “Art” and a commentary on the nature of creation. (This decision was, of course, after he made HowardCantour.com, which he obviously never intended for anyone to realize was completely stolen.) He even wrote a letter about it which uses the phrase “meta-modernist performance art” to describe his Twitter. Fun game to play at home: try to read it without vomiting blood! My high score is halfway through paragraph three.
Here’s the thing, though: even if he had intended his plagiarism to be a commentary on plagiarism from the beginning (which, again, he didn’t; he only decided it was after he got caught), the whole project still doesn’t count as “worthwhile” or “good.” There is no commentary there, no addition to or reframing of the material he stole, only continued plagiarism. You don’t get to steal stuff and be patted on the back for being aware of what you’re doing. That’s not how art works.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, given my message is “hating Candy Crush Saga and Shia LaBeouf” to the choir of f**king everyone who exists, but there is a larger point here. Both of these terrible people/companies stole from people in terrible ways. That isn’t unique. What’s unique is in how they responded to getting called out: not by apologizing and retracting or changing the thing they made, but by trying to shut down the competition, or pretending stealing is its own form of creation.
Any person who creates for a living is going to accidentally plagiarize someone else’s material. We’ll subconsciously forget that we heard a joke somewhere and think it’s ours, or we’ll accidentally cross that blurry line between inspiration and plagiarism, or we’ll mess up in a big way and purposely steal something that we think no one will find out about. It happens. It’s terrible, and it happens.
What matters is how we respond when it happens. I keep coming back to Rob Delaney’s response to joke thieves:
“I had the good fortune some years ago to have a joke stolen from me and performed on TV by a comic I knew. At first I was upset, but then I realized that, poor etiquette aside, the guy was funny and he would’ve been on TV with or without my joke. I also realized that if I couldn’t immediately write several more jokes to replace it, then I wasn’t funny, and I had no business calling myself a comedian…My silent motto when I began to encounter joke theft on Twitter was “Go ahead and take ‘em, motherf**ker. Here come five more.”
It works both ways. Realized you stole an idea from someone? Take it down, apologize, and f**king create something new. If you can’t come up with five more ideas to replace it, that’s absolutely fine. You’re just in the wrong field, and should find one that you’re better suited to.
Can’t come up with original ideas to replace your stolen ones? To plagiarize Shia LaBeouf: #StopCreating. The world needs more accountants.
Alli hated on internet hate in The Steam Controller and Other Ridiculous Ideas Throughout History and deconstructed the world’s oldest joke with 3 Reasons Your “Get Back in the Kitchen” Joke Is Boring.