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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stealing Inspiration

Where’s the line between inspiration, plagiarism and copyright infringement?


By the time the Times-Dispatch completed its investigation, the intern who wrote the article containing what Seals described as "trouble-some similarities between the Metro Business article and Style's" had already left the paper and returned to school. There were no other reported firings, notwithstanding that the photographer didn't have any input into the text of the article or its headline.

Zigging And Zagging In The Flickr Era
More commonly, the question of visual plagiarism is going to find itself intertwined with claims of copyright infringement. When such claims are pursued in court, the penalties available relate solely to copyright. That said, it's not uncommon to find the concept of plagiarism coming up in connection with copyright infringement cases.

The issue of plagiarism came up in connection with David LaChapelle's case against Rihanna and others relating to her S&M music video. In an interview with NPR, New York University professor Jason King discussed whether Rihanna's video crossed the line from remix to plagiarism. According to King, pop stars "borrow images, in a kind of grab bag aesthetic from anywhere they want. There's a kind of ubiquity of unsourced images out there in the kind of Flickr era that we live in." However, King explained that while there may be a borrowing of ideas, there's also an expectation that the ideas simply won't be copied. "There's a sort of unspoken idea in the making of popular culture," says King, "that if you're going to copy something, at least the copy should zig where the original zags."
 
There's a sort of unspoken idea in the making of popular culture," says King, "that if you're going to copy something, at least the copy should zig where the original zags.
 
LaChapelle has now settled his action again Rihanna for an "undisclosed sum," and according to his publicist, LaChapelle is "happy with the settlement." However, it seems that the legal issues involving the S&M music video, and the question of whether aspects of the video involve visual plagiarism or copyright infringement (or both), are far from settled.

In June, German fashion photographer Philipp Paulus announced his intention to take legal action, alleging that the S&M music video included images from his fashion series "Paperworld." A press release that posed the question, "[t]alent borrows, genius steals?" indicated that settlement efforts had failed and that Paulus will be taking legal action.

Paulus, in the press release, denounced the lack of originality associated with the S&M video. Says Paulus, "[t]o create new things within the creative cosmos, you can only expect this to come from a real genius, there is no doubt about that. However in this case there are no real [geniuses] who created their own work[;] instead they stole ideas from a creative talent. Furthermore every other creative professional should realize how supremely embarrassing it is to copy the work of colleagues from the artistic world and then to be praised for it."

Not everyone, however, shares Paulus' view. Michael Masnick, CEO and founder of the Techdirt weblog, was critical of Paulus' announcement. "I'm at a loss to see how this might be infringing," wrote Masnick. "At best, it's an homage, for which the artist should be happy."

 

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