‘Not again’: the online artists accusing pop stars of stealing work | Music

'Not again': the online artists accusing pop stars of stealing work | Music 1


Marius Sperlich says his first thought when he saw Chris Brown’s music video for his song Wobble Up was “not again”. The image of a nipple that acts as a temperature dial and another of a tropical island shaped like a bottom were strangely familiar, and he claims, brazen copies of his own work.

Sperlich is one of a group of artists who have claimed that the team behind the pop star’s video stole their ideas without crediting them. For the Berlin-based artist – whose work is posted on Instagram, where he has more than 400,000 followers – it was just the latest case of his concepts being allegedly lifted wholesale from the web without permission or credit.

“It’s not cool to just take something; it’s copyright infringement,” he said. “It’s like riding on a bus without a ticket – they don’t think anything is going to happen to them. They assume you’re just a young Instagram artist online and don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer and seek justice.”

The Wobble Up case is the latest in a string of incidents in which artists, who are often at the start of their careers and have strong followings on social media, have their work allegedly copied by well known pop stars without their consent or credit.

The Russian-born surrealist painter and gallery owner Vladimir Kush is in a legal battle with Ariana Grande’s record label in the US over the use of an image in the video for God Is Woman, which he claimed lifts an idea from one of his paintings. “There’s going to be a settlement,” said Kush. “That’s usually what happens. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be proven immediately that it is a rip off.”

Kendrick Lamar’s legal team reached a settlement with the British-Liberian artist Lina Lina Iris Viktor, who argued that the rapper’s video for All The Stars borrowed from her Constellations series of black and gold paintings. Viktor had turned down several requests to use her work and her solicitors called the video “an egregious violation of federal law and an affront to the artist, her livelihood, her legacy and to artists everywhere.”

But for Sperlich and the other artists who said their work looked similar to the images in the Wobble Up video – including Tony Futura, Vanessa McKeown, Catherine Losing, Paul Fuentes and Jamie Calderon – no permission was sought, they have claimed. “I’m super selective,” said Sperlich, explaining why he would probably not have agreed to a request. “I’m trying to get my work into the art world. Why did they do it in a music video? I have no idea what they were thinking.”

Tim Maxwell, who is an arts partner at the legal firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said many copyright cases came from ignorance on the part of the music video directors and artist’s creative teams. “They assume people won’t object,” he said. “They assume they can use it freely. There’s this idea that once it’s in the public domain, it’s ok to use. The defences are incredibly naive.”

Maxwell said the legal repercussion could be serious, depending on the reach of the work that has been produced. He said: “One poster on a bus stop might not mean too much, but if it’s used in a music video that has a global reach, the damages could be significant.” Some artists, he added, have started to crowdfund to try to cover the legal costs of a copyright case.

Sperlich could see some positives from his work allegedly being used by other artists. He said: “To be honest, if you really see it without any emotions, it’s good that this happens. Because it means you’re doing something good.

“But I have a community with over 400,000 followers and I got a message 15 minutes after the video launched. And that hasn’t stopped. I get reminded that they stole my work everyday.”

Representatives for Chris Brown and Sony did not respond to requests for comment from the Guardian.


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