GW IPEL Brief

Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law Brief

A Constellation of Infringement

                             Kendrick Lamar – Øyafestivalen 2013. Credit: Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3

British-Liberian artist Lina Viktor is suing Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and Top Dawg Entertainment (“TDE”) for using some of her paintings in the music video for “All The Stars” without her permission.1 In particular, Viktor claims that the video for the song from the Black Panther soundtrack violated her copyright in “Constellations,” a series of paintings featuring patterned artworks made with 24-karat gold.2

The allegations first arose when Viktor’s lawyer sent a letter to Anthony Tiffith, mentor to Kendrick Lamar and label head at TDE.3 The letter made the label aware of the alleged “willful and egregious” infringement, and requested a discussion of “a resolution of all her claims, consisting at a minimum of a public apology for the unauthorized use and a license fee.”4

In addition, the letter also claimed that the Black Panther creators also approached Viktor twice about using her work.5 The first time was in November 2016, when set decorator Jay Hart requested to use one of the “Constellations” paintings in Black Panther itself.6 According to the complaint, Viktor had found that the “financial and artistic terms offered for her collaboration were not acceptable.”7 In December 2017, a representative of DDA, the PR firm working on behalf of Marvel and Disney, contacted Viktor with the idea of using her artwork in promotional material for the film.8 The artist had once again refused, due to DDA demanding that she “enter into an exclusive license for the proposed works, thereby foregoing all artistic control.”9 Viktor found the licensing agreement to be restrictive, in part because the “Constellation” series would be appearing in the Armory Show the following March, marking a major milestone in her career.10

Viktor first became aware of the alleged infringement in February, when friends of the artist watched the “All The Stars” video upon its release and contacted her, believing she had licensed her work.11 Viktor’s friends weren’t the only ones who thought her influence was apparent in the visuals. Fans took to social media to point out the differences, and an article on the website OkayAfrica states that “[t]he work and influence of British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Victor can be clearly spotted.”12

Viktor recently initiated a lawsuit against TDE and the two artists featured in the song, asking for damages and an injunction.13 In the complaint, the artist claims that the video for “All The Stars” attempts to imitate the “unique look and feel” of her works, but also uses “specific copyrightable elements” such as “stylized motifs of mythical animals, gilded geometric forms on a black background, and distinctively textured areas and patterns.”14 The complaint goes on to acknowledge the mixed message that the unauthorized use of her work sends. While Black Panther has become a worldwide phenomenon, hailed by many for its empowering representations of race and gender, according to Viktor, “in a bitter irony, the Defendants have ignored the wishes of the Artist, herself a Black African woman, whose life’s work is founded on an examination of the political and historical preconceptions of ‘blackness,’ liberation and womanhood.”15 The complaint, which can be viewed here, also takes shots specifically at Lamar, “the public face of the Infringing Video.”16 Viktor’s attorney is “confident that Ms. Viktor will prevail,” while the artist herself wrote in a statement on Facebook, “Feel reassured – I am seeking justice.”17The portion of the video that prompted the legal action begins at about 02:59, at which point Kendrick Lamar is seen walking through a set covered in gold patterns.18 About 19 seconds of the video are alleged to be infringing.19 Currently, the “All The Stars” music video has over 71 million views on YouTube.20

  1. See Winston Cook-Wilson, Kendrick Lamar and SZA Sued by Artist Over “All the Stars” Video, Spin (Feb. 21, 2018), https://www.spin.com/2018/02/kendrick-lamar-sza-all-the-stars-lawsuit/.
  2. See Robin Pogrebin, Artist Says Kendrick Lamar Video for ‘Black Panther’ Song Stole Her Work, N.Y. Times (Feb. 11, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/11/arts/black-panther-kendrick-lamar-lina-iris-viktor.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. See id.
  6. See Isaac Kaplan, Artist Sues Kendrick Lamar, Alleging Black Panther Music Video Copied Her Work, Artsy (Feb. 21, 2018), https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artist-sues-kendrick-lamar-alleging-black-panther-music-video-copied-work.
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. See Pogrebin, supra note 2.
  10. See Kaplan, supra note 6.
  11. See Kaplan, supra note 6; Pogrebin, supra note 2.
  12. Kam Tambini & Antoinette Isama, Stop What You’re Doing and Watch Kendrick Lamar & SZA’s Incredible Video For the ‘Black Panther’ Soundtrack, OkayAfrica (Feb. 6, 2018), http://www.okayafrica.com/kendrick-lamar-black-panther-sza-all-the-stars-video/; see Eric Skelton, Artist Files Copyright Lawsuit Over Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars” Video, Complex (Feb. 20, 2018), http://www.complex.com/music/2018/02/artist-files-copyright-lawsuit-over-all-the-stars-video-kendrick-lamar-sza.
  13. See Kendrick Lamar, SZA Sued by Artist: You Jacked My Work for ‘Black Panther’ Vid!!!, TMZ (Feb. 20, 2018), https://www.tmz.com/2018/02/20/kendrick-lamar-sza-sued-black-panther-music-vid-artwork/.
  14. Id.
  15. See Kaplan, supra note 6.
  16. See Braudie Blais-Billie, Kendrick and SZA Sued Over Black Panther Video, Pitchfork (Feb. 21, 2018), https://pitchfork.com/news/kendrick-and-sza-sued-over-black-panther-video/.
  17. Id.
  18. See Kaplan, supra note 6.
  19. See id.
  20. See Kendrick Lamar, SZA – All The Stars, YouTube (Feb. 6, 2018), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQbjS0_ZfJ0 (last visited Mar. 16, 2018).
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