A Brief History of Egregious Music Video Plagiarism


It’s sad to say it, but yesterday’s news that the ever delightful Beyoncé Knowles is being accused of stealing dance moves for her new video (again) didn’t really come as a great surprise. Now, as ever, we’re well aware that there’s nothing really new in this world, but we’re also aware that there’s a fine but fairly clear line between taking inspiration from something and just, y’know, taking it. There are arguments to be made that all the videos we’ve listed after the jump fall on the wrong side of that line. And also, we can’t help but noticing that the people doing the copying are generally ultra-successful megastars who a) should know better and b) can afford to pay battalions of lawyers to make potential problems disappear. Funny old world, eh?

Beyoncé vs. Bob Fosse

When we included the “Single Ladies” video in our roundup of much-loved music videos that maybe aren’t quite as great as people think they are, we were generally howled down in the comments section for being haters and terrible people, etc. But, shit, we didn’t even mention that apart from being perhaps not the choreographical masterwork that its fans seem to think it is, “Single Ladies” was also very much “inspired” by the dance routines in Bob Fosse’s “Mexican Breakfast.”

The original:

Kanye West vs. Dr. Dog

It’s not quite as shameless as “Single Ladies,” but there are definite similarities between the surreal horror-themed video to “Monster” and the surreal horror-themed video to Dr. Dog’s “The Ark,” which came out three years before Kanye’s song. You might argue that Kanye’s likely never heard of Dr. Dog, but as the Village Voice pointed out when “Monster” dropped, you’d be wrong — West blogged about how much he loved the video to “The Ark” in a post that’s since been quietly expunged from history.

The original:

Joe Jonas vs. indie film-maker Mark Polish

Beyoncé’s not the only pop star who’s been in the news recently for allegedly lifting other people’s ideas — the director of the video for Joe Jonas’s “mature” new single “Just in Love” has been accused of ripping off low-budget film “For Lovers Only.” The movie’s writer and lead actor Mark Polish spoke out a couple of weeks back, saying that it was “very disheartening that a fellow director would go to those lengths to copy For Lovers Only and not credit us.” The similarities are pretty striking — same shots, same angles, same everything. The key difference, of course, is that the film isn’t insufferably lame.

The film (or the trailer, anyway):

Lady Gaga vs. Marco Brambilla

If the rabid reaction to this post is anything to judge by, Gaga is right up there with Beyoncé as far as, shall we say, over-defensive fans go. But whatever her Little Monsters might say, she’s also pretty shameless when it comes to borrowing other people’s ideas (just like her idol Madonna, of whom more shortly). While some of the people she’s been “inspired” by doesn’t seem to mind their ideas being borrowed, we can understand why others might take a rather dim view of it. As far as we know, no one’s asked NYC-based visual artist Marco Brambilla how he feels about “Born This Way” — we can imagine he might have some interesting things to say, considering how much it looks like the video below.

The original:

Beck and Charlotte Gainsbourg vs. the Internet

The idea of a video based on popular Internet imagery isn’t new — Weezer did it, and did it well, with the meme-a-thon that was “Pork and Beans” — so director Keith Schofield probably thought he was onto a winner with his video for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Beck-produced single “Heaven Can Wait.” Unfortunately, some of the people whose images were lifted weren’t too happy about it. There’s a discussion of the video and surrounding issues here — the lesson, perhaps, is that if you’re going to take inspiration from images you find on the Internet, you should at least do the people whose images they are the courtesy of contacting them first. And maybe even crediting them!

Rihanna vs. David LaChapelle

While many of the artists whose work has been “borrowed” by the musicians in this feature have lacked the cash to take legal action, David LaChapelle has no such problems. So it was that he took one look at the video for Rihanna’s “S&M”, got very upset, and called his lawyers. The lawsuit’s still before the courts, and while proving copyright infringement in cases like this is difficult, LaChapelle at least has the resources to settle in for the legal long haul. The lesson? Don’t rip off someone who’s even more rich and famous than you are.

Ivy vs. Final Fantasy

No, not Owen Pallett — we’re talking about Final Fantasy, the video game. In one of the more amusing plagiarism cases in recent years, Korean pop singer Ivy was sued by Square Enix, the developers of Final Fantasy VII, for lifting sequences from the game for the song “Temptation of Sonata.” A Korean court ruled in the company’s favor and ordered that the video be banned from being played on TV. The clip above compares scenes from both — and the evidence looks pretty compelling as far as we can see. (We recommend watching with the sound off, because the song is jaw-droppingly dreadful.)

Madonna vs. Stefano Salvati, BBMak, the ghost of Guy Bourdin, and just about everyone else

Given that Madonna’s greatest talent is her ability to steamroll anyone and anything that stands between her and the fulfillment of her ambitions, it’s perhaps no surprise that she’s acquired a reputation over the years for unashamedly “borrowing” other people’s lyrics, imagery, fashion, and just about anything else not nailed down. (One particularly peeved artist, the little-known Jamaican singer Aisha, has compiled a vaguely deranged but exhaustive list of Madonna’s perceived infractions on this front over the years.) Anyway, Madonna’s music videos are just as full of other people’s ideas as her music — the estate of groundbreaking French photographer Guy Bourdin sued her successfully for lifting his images for the video to “Hollywood,” while elsewhere Italian director Stefano Salvati accused her of stealing the idea of performing at normal speed over a sped-up backdrop from his video for Italian pop star Biagio Antonacci’s “Non è mai stato subito” (below) and British singer BBMak claimed she and Guy Ritchie did the same with their song “Still On Your Side” for “What It Feels Like for a Girl.” Nice.

The original (or one of them):