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Rihanna settles copyright case with photographer LaChapelle

By dpreview staff on Oct 21, 2011 at 16:38 GMT

Pop singer Rihanna has settled the copyright dispute with photographer David LaChapelle. LaChapelle had claimed the music video for the singer's single 'S&M' contained elements similar enough to his photos for it to infringe his copyright. In July a New York judge rejected Rihanna's lawyer's attempts to have the case dismissed on the basis of 'fair use.' Terms of the settlement were not made public.


Click here to read about Judge Shira Scheindlin's earlier rejection of Rihanna's move to have the case dismissed - it gives an interesting insight into which elements of an original photograph are protected under US copyright law.

Comments

Total comments: 26
GKC
By GKC (Oct 24, 2011)

If Rihanna wanted a DLC video, she should have hired DLC. End of story. Her label has more than enough money to afford him. This was a clear cut case of copyright infringement right from the start. Anyone who thinks otherwise has little to no scope of what intellectual property is.

0 upvotes
iaredatsun
By iaredatsun (Oct 22, 2011)

I'm not sure about this.

It seems to me that an individual work can be copied and hence copyrighted but not a photographer's whole oeuvre. I think that what is being contested here is not the intellectual theft of an idea in a photographic work but the theft of a commercial design idea or a trademark.

Imagine if every well know photographer's signature style was copyright. Atget, André Kertesz, Man Ray, Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Wolgang Tillmans, Terry Richardson

There's very little original being produced today so if you could, in theory, copyright a photographic style then it would put most pro photographers right out of business. Amateur photographers might get away with it but if they were under threat too then they'd stop taking photos or stop putting their stuff online through fear. Creative incentive would be stifled. It would kill the whole photographic manufacturing industry and the distribution industry to boot.

2 upvotes
Lyle Aldridge
By Lyle Aldridge (Oct 22, 2011)

This case wasn't about "style." Emulating the style of another doesn't constitute copying. But in this case, it was obvious that the set for the music video was just an item-by-item copy prepared from the photo. The copied elements were really almost too numerous to count, right down to colors and patterns of numerous elements, and the scenery depicted as the view out the rear window. Blatant barely begins to describe it.

2 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Oct 23, 2011)

Personally I don get it. OK - I can at some emotional level despise just mimicking some others work so closely as Rihanna did. But ... is it unlawful? Is it breaking Copyrights? I dont think so. The entire artist scene is about mimicking. Its the basis for it all I would say. If everything have to be new and not based on previous stuff - then there would not be much left.

Personally I also think that trying a new angle on an old idea is very productive. So - using ta photo as the basis for another media - video - is something I would encourage.

And - the main reason for Copyright is to enrich the society with more art and culture, its not about enriching a specific artist and blocking art development.

0 upvotes
Alternative Energy Photography

"There's very little original being produced today so if you could, in theory, copyright a photographic style then it would put most pro photographers right out of business. "

No way! They could just start taking pictures of judges and politicians and their trysts and other dirty laundry. Some pros have lenses so long that they can snap a Washington DC bedroom all the way from Fresno!

Copyright this! :o

0 upvotes
Alternative Energy Photography

I should say seriously however, it's fascinating that one's "style" can be protected. It should be interesting when all those red/blue "soup can" posters of Obama and others begin to end up in IP court cases.

0 upvotes
MadsR
By MadsR (Nov 11, 2011)

Roland Karlsson: It is unlawful. What is illegal here is that her art director for the video took LaChappelle's picture as a guide and set up his setup as a copy in a studio. As simple as that. LaChapelle did not shoot some models at a location you can find elsewhere, in that case, Rihanna's video could have been shot that same location and nothing illegal would have happened.

Alternative Energy Photography: It is not his "style" that is copyrighted here... It is a rather simple case of his work being copied for profit by someone else. Which is illegal. We are not speaking software-patents here. Copyright is an old system that actually works quite well.

0 upvotes
Gary Dean Mercer Clark
By Gary Dean Mercer Clark (Oct 22, 2011)

Good. Copyrights should be respected regardless how horrid the photographer's work is.

5 upvotes
ihv
By ihv (Oct 22, 2011)

I like your sense of humor.

0 upvotes
ScottieC
By ScottieC (Oct 21, 2011)

I would love to know the details of the "Settlement"...

0 upvotes
mike kobal
By mike kobal (Oct 21, 2011)

looking at DLC photograph and R's S&M still grab, it is quite clear David's "essential world" has been copied, re-created and re- built, this is not a scene you can just "find", it only exists in DLC photograph. R should have just hired him to shoot the video, DLC is a very accomplished video director!

6 upvotes
MadsR
By MadsR (Nov 11, 2011)

But he might not have wanted to recreate a prior work for Rihanna. In that case, if "she" (her people) had asked first, he saying no, and they then decided to do this copy anyway, it would have cost them an arm and a leg (Current law specifies up to 3 times the gain, so 3 times her record and single sales and income from tv viewings etc...) Probably ruining her (Which would have been equally bad) so maybe, this was the "best" solution...

0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Oct 21, 2011)

Copyright isn't always "right". Do you think Matthew Brady's pictures should be copy written? Lewis Hine? What about a newspaper who has a photographer under contract and chooses not to publish their photos for political reasons?

In this case the ripoff is blatant and it sounds like justice is happening.

0 upvotes
nitropizza
By nitropizza (Oct 21, 2011)

no way... "copy riight" is always right.

0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Oct 21, 2011)

nuh uhh!

0 upvotes
iaredatsun
By iaredatsun (Oct 22, 2011)

> nitropizza
> no way... "copy riight" is always right.

That sounds so facile.

0 upvotes
Victor Engel
By Victor Engel (Oct 24, 2011)

It's right, not write, so it's not copy written but copyrighted. Or were you trying to make some pun on the word, in which case, I didn't get it?

0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Nov 4, 2011)

Victor Engel, you appear to be correct--I should have used "copyrighted"

However, if you didn't comprehend my intended meaning, you wouldn't have noticed the mistake. Any response to what I was actually attempting to say?

0 upvotes
nitropizza
By nitropizza (Oct 21, 2011)

sucko Rihanna. I won a case here in Sydney after a client on-sold my photos to the models (for her own profit) a few years ago. Not the same thing but a copyright win is always a good thing.

2 upvotes
Bryan Costin
By Bryan Costin (Oct 24, 2011)

No it isn't. Not when the overall effect here is to weaken the legitimacy of copyright.

Your photos, which you created, were taken from you and sold without your permission, and that's clearly wrong. But if your client paid another photographer to take new photos of them in a similar style to your photos, that would've been entirely within their rights. You should not be able to prevent another photographer from creating new works, no more than they could have prevented you from doing so.

A photographer owns their photographs. That is all. Not someone else's photographs or drawings or videos, no matter how similar or dissimilar the style or the palette or the content may be. No photographer (or videographer, or writer, or musician) deserves to take anything they didn't create.

0 upvotes
MadsR
By MadsR (Nov 11, 2011)

However, if you setup some environment in a studio, an environment you design, which is not found "naturally", and shoot those pictures, you copyright that setup. Which means that if another magazine sets up an identical (to the definition of identical) setup and shoot their pictures there, because they don't want to pay for yours, then they are breaching copyright rules.

There is not much more to it. It is always a judgement if a setup is copied or not, you might create something similar, the border to when it is "identical" depends both on the complexity of the setup and the reason for setting it up. In this case, it looks like "We really like LaChapelles design here, it fits with the song, but we don't want to pay him for his work so we copy him..." And now they have settled for paying him for his original work. Possibly clever, since he might have said no to reproducing his work for Rihanna in the first place, and so the music video would have had to be different.

0 upvotes
Kim Letkeman
By Kim Letkeman (Oct 21, 2011)

"Fair Use" : Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.

One wonders exactly which of those uses the lawyer was claiming that her video-for-money might have been classified under ... what a stretch :-)

1 upvote
maiaibing
By maiaibing (Oct 23, 2011)

Which is why that argument was dismissed by the court back in July...

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Oct 23, 2011)

The video is unnecessary close to the photo. She could have just been inspired by the photo and made some more changes.

But apart from that .. I like derivative work. More of that! Good ideas shall be possible to reuse. If Copyright is in the way for derivative works - I would say - fix the text in the law.

0 upvotes
MadsR
By MadsR (Nov 11, 2011)

Derivative works are fully legal by copyright laws. This case does not change that or even move the border a bit.

Derivative work requires you to put "some of your own work" into it. Not just copy what others have done before you and release that.

0 upvotes
Aeros
By Aeros (Nov 18, 2011)

MadsR: It is an infrigement by conversion and distortion to use a recognizable element of an intelectual work without the original authors consent. This is clearly stated in the Copyright Act. I have not come accross anywhere in the Act the word "Derivative". If you could point me to it, I would like to confirm.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Total comments: 26