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Rihanna Sued For Plagiarism by Second Fashion Photographer Over ‘S&M’ Video

By Hanssie on February 19th 2014

Almost exactly 3 years ago, in 2011, singer Rihanna released her music video for her hit single, ‘S&M.’ A few weeks later, famed fashion photographer, David LaChappelle slapped Rihanna with a lawsuit, claiming that 8 of his images were copied using the “composition, total concept, feel, tone, mood, theme, colors, props, settings, decors, wardrobe and lighting” of his work.

These are just two of the images compared side by side with Rihanna’s video:


The Internet was abuzz with debates of artistic appropriation, coincidence or plagiarism. Rihanna and LaChapelle settled out of court and everyone was happy. Until now.

[REWIND: Justin Timberlake + Rihanna + LR4 Preset System = Amazing Photos by Michael Jurick]


Rihanna’s S&M video has close to 49 million views and is now facing a possible ban from YouTube and TV worldwide. Fashion photographer, Philipp Paulus has filed a lawsuit for the same video, for the same offense.

The 22 year-old photographer claims that Rihanna’s raunchy ‘S&M’ video uses scenes from his photography series, ‘Paperworld.’ In ‘Paperworld,’ one of the images in the series shows a woman in a red dress pinned against a wall with plastic wrap, surrounding her are big black X marks. Behold, Paulus’ image on the right, a screenshot of Rihanna’s video on the left.


Paulus and his lawyer have been trying to settle out of court with Rihanna and Universal Music Group since 2011, but, though the record company has admitted to similarities, they’ve made no effort to settle out of court, hence the lawsuit.

Why a worldwide celebrity is not able to afford a creative director, who creates individual concepts and staging, is incomprehensible to me…While I really respect Rihanna’s talents as a musician, nevertheless it is important to respect the creations of others, even young talent – and not to copy their work without legitimacy for earning money with it in order to make money.

Here is Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ video. Watch it while you still can.

What are your thoughts? Is this a case of artistic appropriation, another coincidence or blatant plagiarism? Comment below.

via @Daily News/Concrete Loop

Images by David LaChapelle/Phillipp Paulus

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nick Viton

    What was the outcome? Is ithis still in courts?

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  2. Black Z Eddie

    The lawsuit is ridiculous. It’s not even close to the same thing.

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  3. Cross

    Everyone look somewhere for inspiration. 99% of us creatives get inspiration an object, whether it be a picture, movie, a style, an art or whatever. We fuse these inspirations with our own imagination and produce masterpieces. The overall video told a story in my opinion, not my taste, but a story never-the-less. Saying all that, I think the photographers should get their credit….

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  4. Marisa Zimmerman

    While I agree that the images with the black tape and the clear vinyl on the wall are very similar, I have seen MANY images of women in latex masks as well as images of a female having a male on a leash. These types of images were and still are rampant in the BDSM community long before David LaChapelle photographed them. While I understand that almost every photographer thinks that their works are completely original, if you are taking aspects of lifestyles or sub-cultures, and using them for fashion, then sorry hun, that is not original. How many Great Gatsby or Downton Abbey themed images have you seen since as of late? It’s what’s popular.

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  5. Christopher

    You can not copyright or trademark concepts, period. This is well established case law. There is not standing here. He’s going to get zilch. Also, the other person who commented that he took these ideas from an already existing culture is dead on. I have contacts who BDSM photography and I have seen all of this before. The only thing “ground breaking” is that he took something that existed underground and put it out in the public as a controversial statement. If anything, he is a coward for claiming this “art” as his.

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  6. Gina Risso

    Unless the idea is copyrighted, I think its ridiculous to think that the photographer is due anything. Its not his photos they used, just a concept. As the fashion photographer mentioned above, the whole industry is always reinventing itself, usually based on a plethora of all ready done concepts. Big deal. If the courts rule in favor of the photographer, then we are all in a whole lot of trouble. Even in design school, they teach you to research before creating and the research is most often other peoples’ work.

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    • Mike

      I agree. They copied the concept or idea not the work itself. Can creative concepts be owned now ?

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  7. Phil

    Lachappelle should pay some money to the estate of Helmut Newton first…

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  8. cal

    Clearly no one here ever watches hard core porn from the 80’s

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  9. ocguy

    So black X’s, walking a guy on a leash like a dog and wearing a rubber head dress is original? Really?

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  10. Drew Pluta

    LaChappelle is way off here. Everything he did was preexisting in culture for quite some time before he came along. The clothing, the tropes, all of it was there down to the last detail before he was even a name.

    Paulus on the other hand has clearly been stolen from. His composition is clearly his own and doesn’t exist in any form other than his. I’ll ad that the Rihanna rip off is incredibly bad as a technical feat. The least they could do is take it to a higher level of production.

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  11. Lior

    problematic subject in my opinion.. where exactly you put the line in cases like this, especially in the fashion industry which gave away copyrights and basically designer do what ever they want as well as photographers and they like it, they take existed Idea and push it forward.
    Surely the images are very similar but than you can easily find many other examples especially in staged photography and for sure in Fashion.
    Honestly as a pro Fashion photographer I am very confuse, As I see it every day fashion is a big industry which mostly depend on recycled Ideas and when stuff like this are popping out it look ridicules claim to me, in that case I would be very proud if Rihanna will top pro directors and producers will use my Idea.

    Extra food for thoughts :

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  12. Vladimir Ladev

    Ok maybe they have a creative director for the video but he is not so “creative” and stole the ideas as his own, don’t be quick to judge, I agree the photographer should be compensated for his creative work.

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  13. Peter

    The photographer should get paid. Clearly whoever was the “creative” behind the video was taking stuff from the photographers. Wouldn’t be surprised if more photographers were copied and they just haven’t stepped out yet. Likely end up with high 5 figures for this.

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