Attorneys for Rihanna have asked a federal court in New York to throw out David LaChapelle’s copyright infringement claim against the pop singer, and have accused LaChapelle of “trying to monopolize a whole genre” of images–namely pictures of sadomasochistic scenes.
LaChapelle sued Rihanna several months ago for allegedly copying eight of his widely published photographs in her “S&M” music video. He is seeking at least $1 million in damages and an injunction to stop distribution of the video.
To support his claim, LaChapelle submitted side-by-side comparisons of his previously published photographs and frame grabs from Rihanna’s video, which show a variety of S&M scenarios. (One of the eight comparisons is shown here.) LaChapelle asserts that the defendants “obviously copied” his artistic expression, including concept, composition, feel, tone, mood, theme, colors, props, settings, decors, wardrobe and lighting.
No way, say Rihanna’s lawyers, who proceed to deconstruct the disputed images in turn. It was an exercise that must have perked up an otherwise dull day at the lawyers’ office. Rihanna’s attorneys argue that copyright law protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, and that Rihanna and LaChapelle express similar ideas in entirely different ways. Therefore, they say, LaChapelle doesn’t have a claim.
But don’t take our word for it. Let’s read it right from the court papers. For instance, here Rihanna’s lawyers compare an image by LaChapelle titled “Aristocrats” to part of Rihanna’s video that they refer to as “The Dog Scene:”
“LaChapelle’s still depicts a woman, who is wearing a high-collared, long black dress… walking a man – who is naked but for scant leather fetish wear – as if he were a dog. The woman holds a riding crop and the man wears a black leather ‘officer’s’ hat, both of which are commonly associated with sadomasochism. An exotic building features prominently in the background.
“While the Dog Scene also employs the common sadomasochistic theme of a woman carrying a riding crop and walking a man like a dog…the expression of this common idea is markedly different. In the Video, Rihanna is dressed in a beige gown that is low-cut, and the man on the leash is dressed in a shirt and tie with pink pants and a pink hat, in stark contrast to the nearly naked man in ‘Aristocrats.’ Rihanna and the leashed man go through an extended routine where he acts like a dog on a lawn in front of a suburban home. It is playful and humorous – the ‘man-dog’ smiles as he ‘relieves’ himself and he and Rihanna play and ‘kiss’ after she disciplines him. …LaChapelle’s hatless, black leather-clad woman is mysterious and serious, and the man she is ‘walking’ displays no sense of playfulness. The background is also completely different – urban home versus exotic, official-looking building….”
Rihanna’s lawyers pick apart the other images in similar fashion.
A federal judge will soon weigh the arguments and study the photographs very, very carefully, then rule on whether or not to throw LaChapelle’s claim out of court.
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