This morning we read in the New York Times that David LaChapelle loves Rihanna but he’s gonna need her to cut a check for the flagrant jacking of his work she pulled in her video “S&M”. The suit LaChapelle filed cites Rihanna’s wrongdoing by its rightful name— a “willful, wanton and deliberate” infringement. This isn’t the first time that a Melina Matsoukas-directed Rihanna video has been called out for referencing source material too closely. Viceland.com dubbed her Rihanna McGinley for the video “Only Girl in the World” ‘s uncanny resemblance Ryan McGinley’s photography. In a interview with Billboard’s blog Matsoukas discusses the creative process for “S&M” but never mentions LaChapelle’s iconic photography.
While chopping up this morning’s news in the office, we got thinking about inspiration and fair attribution. Our eyes constantly scan and our brains don’t always receive the imagery and art that bombards us 24/7 consciously. In a sense, we’re influenced as effortlessly as we breathe. It can feel organic to reinterpret something that’s been created and still experience it as personally novel. Are we saying that there’s nothing new under the sun? Yes and No. This is where things get gray, become court matters. RiRi and LaChapelle’s dispute is similar to a case between Madonna and Guy Bordin. For Madonna’s 2003 “Hollywood” video, the Queen Mother of self-reinvention frame for frame referenced Bordain’s photography, leading to a picture piracy suit filed by Bourdin’s son Samuel. Gaga, oft hailed as vanguard, is guilty too: cries of over-borrowing from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” have been called down on her for her new single “Born This Way,” and the way that she looked while performing it on the Grammys stage. Jay Leno asked about the similarities on his Monday show. In a graciously defensive and sort of emphatic move, Gaga said Madonna’s people “expressed complete support.”
Apparently no one is safe from being an influence or victim, whether direct or indirect. Protect ya neck, it looks like jacking season is upon us again.