While Black Panther is bringing millions of patrons to local movie theaters, contemporary artist Lina Iris Viktor does not approve of the art theft film’s accompanying soundtrack music video release – Kendrick Lamar’s “All The Stars.”
Lina Iris Viktor’s latest exhibition, Black Exodus: Act 1 – Materia Prima, was on display in London’s Amar Gallery in September through 2017. The first Act of her Black Exodus series used a solely black and gold color palette to, in her words, “renegotiate artistic and socio-political definitions of “blackness”, whilst exploring existing narratives surrounding race and the African diaspora.” (Source) Her work is slated to be exhibited this year at Manifesta 12, a prestigious art biennial in Italy, and she is preparing to take part in several major solo shows in 2018 that will be dedicated to her work.
Allegedly, Viktor’s work didn’t go unnoticed by Kendrick Lamar, who recently debuted his music video for the song “All of the Stars,” which was published on YouTube on February 6, 2018 as an accompaniment to the Black Panther movie soundtrack. While the settings in the music video change frequently, the main setting at issue in this complaint is at the three-minute mark, when the scene changes to a black room with gold embellishments resembling Viktor’s art.
On February 20, 2018, Viktor filed a complaint against Lamar. In that complaint, Viktor made the comparison below. On the left is her original piece, Constellations I. On the right is a screen cap from the scene at issue in “All The Stars.”
The language in the complaint itself is incredibly powerful, as it is framed in a way that touches on the serious and empowering themes contained in her art. Importantly, the complaint cites the incredible irony of her art being stolen for use in Lamar’s video. For example, the complaint states:
The Infringing Video and the Movie promotes (and profits from) themes of black and female empowerment and the end of racist and gender exploitation, themes particularly topical in the current environment. Yet, 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. In contrast to his message in the song’s lyrics that “I hate people that feel entitled,” and that “I want my credit if I am winning or I am losing,” Defendant Lamar, who is the public face of the Infringing Video and is quick to take credit for it in public statements, has sought to distance himself from any responsibility for the video as an infringement of Plaintiff’s rights.
Viktor repeated these ethical concerns in her recent interview with the New York Times.
Is there even a question as to whether Lamar copied Viktor’s art? Pictured below are some of the visuals from Lamar’s video compared to Viktor’s pieces, Constellations II and Constellations III.
While they are definitely similar in the fact that they use a lot of the same geographic shapes, use the same color palette, and have the same general aesthetic, it may be hard for Viktor to prove that Lamar directly copied her work. The test for copyright infringement is whether two pieces of art are substantially similar. So play judge and jury and make that decision for yourself right now….before a settlement is reached to do away with this case.
Author, Caroline Womack, is a 2L at Quinnipiac University School of Law and primarily studies intellectual property law, focusing on video game and internet law.