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Rihanna Settles Lawsuit with David LaChapelle

By David Walker


Left: An image from Rihanna's video. Right: A David LaChapelle photo.

Pop singer Rihanna has reached an out-of-court settlement agreement with photographer David LaChapelle, who sued her earlier this year for copyright infringement. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

LaChapelle was seeking at least $1 million in damages from Rihanna,  alleging that some scenes from the video for her hit single called "S&M" were rip-offs of sadomasochistic images LaChapelle had created and published over the years. The photographer alleged in his lawsuit that Rihanna had asked various directors to create a "LaChapelle-esque video" for "S&M," and that she had provided a story board for the video that actually included prints of some of LaChapelle's photographs.

Rihanna had responded by asking the court to throw out LaChapelle's claim on the rounds that he was "trying to monopolize a whole genre" of images, namely sadomasochistic scenes. Her lawyers argued that although her video and LaChapelle's images expressed similar ideas, they did so in different ways. Under federal copyright law, it is the execution of ideas--and not the ideas themselves--that are protected.

In a pre-trial ruling in July, the court said that LaChapelle made a plausible claim for infringement because certain scenes from Rihanna's "S&M" video appeared to copy protectable elements of various LaChapelle images. Protectable elements include sets, wardrobe, lighting, camera angle, and mood, to name several.

For instance, the court pointed out that the video's "Pink Room Scene" and LaChapelle's "Striped Face" photograph both feature women dominating men in a domestic scene. That subject is not protectable, the court noted, but the particular way that Rihanna's video portrayed the scene--including the set, wardrobe, "generally frantic mood" and lighting--was "substantially similar" to LaChapelle's image, the judge said.

The ruling cleared the way for a trial in the case, forcing Rihanna to decide whether  to defend her position before a jury--or settle out of court.

She chose the latter course.

The court issued an order on September 1 dismissing the case after lawyers for both parties gave notice that they had reached "a resolution." Neither party exercised an option to re-instate the case by October 1, an indication that the settlement agreement was finalized to the satisfaction of both sides.

Related Stories
David LaChapelle Wins Pre-Trial Ruling Against Rihanna

You Be the Judge: Did Rihanna Infringe David LaChapelle's Work?

 David LaChapelle Sues Rihanna for Infringement

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