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Setback for Kendrick Lamar in Artist’s Copyright Lawsuit Over ‘Black Panther’ Song

A New York federal judge has rejected Lamar partial summary judgement in the case

Kendrick Lamar, SZA, All The Stars, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artists

Kendrick Lamar, SZA, All The Stars, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artists

Kendrick Lamar, SZA, All The Stars, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artists

Kendrick Lamar has suffered a setback following a preliminary ruling in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought against him by artist Lina Iris Viktor. New York federal judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled that he could not yet declare whether Viktor, a British-Liberian visual artist, would not be entitled to a proportion of the profits from the sale of Black Panther: The Album (2018) as well as the hit single ‘All the Stars’ (2018), which appears on the soundtrack.

Viktor alleges that Lamar and creators of the blockbuster film Black Panther (2018) copied imagery from her paintings and used them in the hit song’s music video. According to the artist, representatives from the film as well as the Marvel PR team approached her about using imagery from her series ‘Constellations’ (2016–18). She declined their request.

Lina Iris Viktor, Constellations I Study, 2016._Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Lina Iris Viktor, Constellations I Study, 2016._Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Lina Iris Viktor, Constellations I Study, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Arguments will now be heard as to whether the video for ‘All the Stars’ copied her visuals. The music video and paintings both use gold leaf on black paint as well as Egyptian and African motifs. In documents from Viktor’s legal complaint, side-by-side images show distinctly similar patterns.

In his ruling, Engelmayer wrote that Viktor is ‘apparently ineligible for statutory damages on account of the lack of registration of her works as of the time of the alleged infringement’. The artist will instead seek a cut in the profits from the song.

Lamar’s hit went double platinum in the US earlier this year, while the film Black Panther grossed GBP£1.05 billion (USD$1.346 billion) in the box office.

Speaking to The New York Times in February, when a copyright infringement letter was filed, Viktor said, ‘Why would they do this? It’s an ethical issue, because what the whole film purports is that it’s about black empowerment, African excellence – that’s the whole concept of the story. And at the same time they’re stealing from African artists.’

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