25 Jul 2011

Dave LaChapelle vs Rihanna [S&M video]

Hey everybody. I'm currently building a new website. Until then please find my images over at

The reason I'm blogging about this is because as a visual artist I feel quite strongly about what is happening and also see a possible problem arising in the future for all visual artists.

So, this seems to be pretty hot news right now. The story is that Dave LaChapelle is suing Rihanna, or perhaps her video director [Melina Matsoukas], for infringement of copyright over her music video S&M [see below]. The story is that Rihanna's video very closely imitates LaChapelles work to the point of theft. He is currently in a court battle with her [representatives] to the sum of $1million. 

Here are some image examples. LaChapelle on the left. Rihanna on the right.
*Image from Gossip On This .com

There is no argument. Rihanna's video is obviously inspired by LaChapelles work to the point of imitation. But, I don't see a huge problem with this. It's fairly unethical of Melina Matsoukas to imitate LaChapelles work and not credit him [As a video artist herself, she should know better] But, I can't see how it is illegal. The video does not use any of LaChapelles personal work. It has clearly been created by different people. Different sets have been used, different models, different angles, different fashion. The video director has stolen ideas and concepts. But, since when could we copyright ideas? 

"Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work." - U.S. Copyright Office

Apparently LaChapelle has been pushing his case with the notion that his work has been sampled. Music laws are in place which prevent the duplication of other musicians work to use as your own without prior consent. This is great. But, I can't see how his work has been sampled either. None of his material has been sampled in the Rihanna video. Only recreated by other artists. It all seems to me like LaChapelle is pushing his luck a bit. He is obviously upset that his work has been imitated to benefit other peoples bank accounts. 

If he wins this court case, it could mean that artists will no longer be able to recreate, imitate, or express inspiration from other artists work. How many times this season have you seen a photograph of a model stood in a hayfield, or holding a balloon? Should the photographer who came up with the original concept sue them all? What about all the television commercials that imitate youtube videos? How about if I draw the village people? Could they then sue me? Will fan art, or caricature, die completely? 

Andy Warhol drew Campbells tomato soup. Should he have been sued for it?

For what it's worth, The video ain't all dat. It's a pretty average music video and doesn't deserve all the attention it's getting. This whole thing makes me wonder if its a publicity stunt on behalf of LaChapelle, Rihanna, or both.

1 comment:

Marry said...

Lol @ the publicity stunt idea. Wouldn't surprise me neither ;)

In all honesty, I don't think he's got much ground to stand on. It's a recreation of work previously made,

I think it may be defensible in the same way a musical "cover" is. But in such a case, LaChapelle is still "songwriter" of the original, so he can be looking towards a mechanical fee to be paid per view for example, rather than one fixed amount.