LaChapelle Can Take Def Jam & Rihanna to Trial

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Rihanna, Def Jam Music and others must stand trial for alleged copyright violations in the music video “S&M,” which fashion photographer David LaChapelle says largely exploits eight of his copyrighted photos.
     LaChapelle is a well-known fashion and celebrity photographer who shot the portrait of Keith Richards on the cover of the rocker’s new autobiography, “Life.” He claims that Rihanna or her handlers told director Melina Matsoukas to produce a “LaChapelle-esque music video,” and that even the storyboards for the video “consisted of or contained prints” of his works.
     LaChapelle also sued producer Los Angeles-based Black Dog Films and UMG Recordings, the corporate parent of Def Jam.
     Rihanna’s actual name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty.
     The “S&M” video was released on Jan. 21, and sparked the lawsuit on Feb. 14. The defendants submitted a motion to dismiss in April.
     In a 32-page order, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin parses similarities between three of the music video’s scenes and a corresponding LaChapelle photograph. She concludes in each instance that the concepts were not protectable, but the execution was.
     Scheindlin says the video’s “Pink Room Scene” and LaChapelle’s “Striped Face” both feature a “choreographed S&M-inspired scene of women dominating men in a fanciful domestic space,” a subject matter that she says “naturally” involves “women in a living room with a man bound on the floor.”
     “However, it does not necessarily follow that both works feature: hot-pink and white striped walls; two single-hung windows in the middle of the back wall; windows with glossy hot-pink casings and interior framework, with opaque panes exhibiting a half-vector pattern of stripes against a yellow background; a solid hot-pink ceiling; hot-pink baseboards; a hot-pink couch under the windows; women wearing frizzy red wigs; a woman posed on top of a piece of furniture; black tape wrapped around a man; and a generally frantic mood,” the order states.
     The “Pink Hood” scene and LaChapelle’s “Latex” both capture a woman wearing a latex hood, a sight the judge admits is “emblematic of S&M attire and thus not protectible (sic).”
     But both works also show “the woman in profile from close-up, with the frame cropped tight on her head; striking, direct lighting with no shadow; a highly saturated blue background; and the woman’s mouth open and a small object on her tongue,” the order states.
     Likewise, Scheindlin says that the video’s “Press Scene” and LaChapelle’s “Noisy Fame” both portray “a female celebrity helpless before the predatory gaze of the media.”
     “Both show the woman illuminated harshly from the front, as if by flashbulbs or a spotlight, with cameras, microphones, and anonymous figures of photographers and reporters partially visible along the sides and lower portions of the frame,” the order states.
     If the similarities ended there, Scheindlin said LaChapelle would have not have a case in this instance, but evidence piles up.
     “Here, however, both works also feature the woman with her back against a bright teal-blue wall, upon which the elbow of her raised arm casts a sharp dark shadow,” Scheindlin said. “These specific choices concerning staging and color are not necessary to express the concept of a helpless female celebrity being preyed upon by the media. Moreover, they contribute significantly to the overall feel of the image: the teal-blue background is vivid and consumes most of the frame in both works, thereby establishing an unusual, even ethereal mood, while the presence of a wall directly behind the woman emphasizes and intensifies her victimization.”
     According to the order, the defendants argued that, if they did use the photographs, it was to “”critic[ize] how Rihanna is treated by the press and comment on her relationship with the media.”
     Scheindlin did not buy that.
     “Commenting on and criticizing Rihanna’s treatment by the media is unrelated to the photographs and does not require copying protectible (sic) elements of LaChapelle’s work,” the order states.
     She agreed, however, to dismiss LaChapelle’s other claims of trade-dress infringement, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.
     A conference is scheduled for Aug. 10.

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