Copyright Infringement Claims Against Pop/R&B Singer Rihanna Survive Motion to Dismiss

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a motion by pop and R&B singer Rihanna and other defendants to dismiss copyright claims alleging that the music video for Rihanna’s song “S&M” copied elements of photographer David LaChapelle’s photographs. LaChapelle v. Fenty, No. 11 Civ. 945 (SAS) (S.D. N.Y. July 19, 2011). ┬áThe court compared the “look and feel” of the expressive elements of the video with that of eight of LaChapelle’s photographs and found that LaChapelle had adequately alleged a case of unauthorized copying. The defendants argued that if they had copied protected elements of the photographs, their actions were shielded by the defense of fair use because the video “critic[izes] how Rihanna is treated by the press and comment[s] on her relationship with the media.” The court found that the record was insufficient to permit a ruling on a fact-intensive issue such as fair use. However, the court remarked that “defendants’ central argument on this point is misguided,” because fair use shields unauthorized reproduction of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism only if the criticism in some way comments on, refers to, or relates to the original work. “Commenting on and criticizing Rihanna’s treatment by the media,” the court held, “is unrelated to the photographs and does not require copying protectable elements of LaChapelle’s work.”

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