Lina Iris Viktor is a British-Liberian visual artist based in Manhattan who creates stunning pictures in a unique style using gilded imagery with African themes. In February, Viktor sued Kendrick Lamar, Universal Music Group, SZA and other defendants for copyright infringement, alleging that they copied patterns and style from her artwork in a 19-second portion of the music video for the song “All the Stars” from the movie soundtrack of “Black Panther.”
The lawsuit is in the news now that “All the Stars” has received major Grammy nominations, according to a new article at Artsy, which reported that the defendants look like they may be open to discussing settlement.
Allegations of infringement
To better understand this claim, it is illuminating to look at Viktor’s artwork from her “Constellations” series side-by-side with the video clip, both of which Artsy reproduced in an earlier article about the suit. That article gives us some idea of the magnitude of this potential infringement. In February, the music video already had more than 27 million YouTube views, Artsy reported.
The plaintiff is asking for money damages and an injunction in which the court would order the defendants not to use her work in promotions and to stop publicly playing the video.
The complaint alleges that the defendants’ representatives had previously asked Viktor for permission to use her artwork in the film and in promotional materials, requests which she had refused. Viktor’s friends reportedly assumed when they saw the music video that she had agreed to a license.
Artsy speculates that defendants may try to rely on the “de minimis” exception to copyright infringement. Using this defense, the defendants could assert that even if the works are substantially similar, they are used so briefly or in such a trivial manner that there is really no harm to Viktor’s interests.
Another issue could be whether the incorporation of Viktor’s images into the video constitute a “fair use,” meaning a use that is allowable despite not having artist permission. A fair use must fall into a category listed in federal copyright law such as criticism, education, research and others.
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, if the new use is “transformative” because it “add[s] something new, with a further purpose or different character,” the use is “more likely to be considered fair.” The Artsy author felt that because the work seems to be used in the video as “direct inspiration,” a finding of transformation is not likely.
We will watch for the outcome of this dispute with interest.