Photographer David LaChapelle has filed suit against pop star Rihanna for allegedly copying eight of his widely published photographs in a new music video. He is seeking at least $1 million in damages and an injunction to stop distribution of the video.
LaChapelle is suing not only Rihanna, but the director of the video for her song “S&M,” as well as the video production company and Rihanna’s record label. He filed the claim on Monday in federal district court in Manhattan.
Known for his surreal fashion and editorial images, LaChapelle alleges that Rihanna asked the director of her “S&M” video to make it “LaChapelle-esque.” He charges that the storyboards for the video included prints of his images, to bolster his claim that his work was copied willfully.
LaChapelle, who has directed and produced music videos for many artists, notes in the claim that he charges up to $1 million for those services. That may or may not help explain why Rihanna and her record company didn’t hire LaChapelle to make a LaChapelle-esque video.
LaChapelle says in his claim that the “S&M” video was “directly derived from and substantially similar to” his images. To support that, he includes in the lawsuit side-by-side comparisons of his photographs and frame grabs from the video. He asserts that the defendants “obviously copied” his artistic expression, including concept, composition, feel, tone, mood, theme, colors, props, settings, decors, wardrobe and lighting.
Nancy Wolff, an intellectual property attorney who is not involved in the case, explains that the outcome will ride on the question of whether the Rihanna video crosses a line between copying an idea–which is allowed under copyright law–and copying the execution of that idea.
In other words, the court will compare the images side-by-side to determine whether technical elements such as composition, lighting, props, camera angles and other elements of execution are substantially similar, she says.
“The idea is free, but the expression is not, so the question is whether the defendants copied the way [LaChapelle] expressed” scenes of S&M in his images, says Wolff, who is with the New York law firm Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard.
LaChapelle is also suing Rihanna and the other defendants for trademark violation. He asserts that by making the video look so much like his work, the defendants “are wrongly implying to the public that [LaChapelle] was involved in the creation of the video” or that he endorsed its creation. His cites Twitter messages posted by his fans as evidence that the public has been confused into thinking the videos are his work.
Rihanna and the other defendants have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.
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