Small Artists Demand Recognition - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Small Artists Demand Recognition

Small Artists Demand Recognition

If you are following the hype surrounding the critically acclaimed movie, Marvel’s Black Panther, then you have surely heard the album associated with the film spearheaded by the one and only Kendrick Lamar. Since late December, fans have been teased with the release of an album.1 Soon after the New Year, the song “All The Stars” by Lamar featuring SZA, was released.2

Finally, only a few days before the world premiere of the movie, the video for “All The Stars” was released.3 Amongst the list of positive reviews lies a claim of copyright infringement. Soon after the video aired, an artist by the name of Lina Iris Viktor reached out to Anthony Tiffith, the president of Top Dog Entertainment, alleging a copyright violation of the 24-karat gold, patterned artworks in her series of paintings “Constellations.”4

Prior to the release of the video, the directors of the short film reached out to Viktor twice in order to obtain the rights to use her artwork.5 However, Viktor declined on both occasions due to unacceptable financial and artistic terms.6 Thus, to her surprise, she noticed the strong similarity between the gold symbols on a black background that mimicked her artwork paintings in the series, “Constellations.”7 According to the letter of infringement, the video contains a 19-second segment “that incorporates not just the immediately-identifiable and unique look of her work, but also many of the specific copyrightable elements in the ‘Constellations’ series of paintings, including stylized motifs of mythical animals, gilded geometric forms on a black background, and distinctively textured areas and patterns, arrayed in a grid-like arrangement of forms.”8

Although Viktor’s pattern is not protected, the similarity and consumer confusion may give rise to a copyright infringement claim.9 At minimum, Viktor seeks a public apologize for the use of her artwork without her permission.10

This claim is a clear example of how small artists are taken advantage of in the mainstream entertainment industry. Viktor is not the first to claim infringement on her work against a “top dog” industry name.11 Currently, a copyright infringement claim is one of the best way for local artists to protect their items. However, the frequency of these infringement claims brings the question of whether stronger protections should be considered for the underground artist.


  1. Sidney Madden, Kendrick Lamar and SZA Release ‘All The Stars’ Single From Black Panther’, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Jan. 4, 2018) https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/01/04/575609889/kendrick-lamar-and-sza-release-all-the-stars-single-from-black-panther [https://perma.cc/2AJ6-YM5U].

  2. Id.

  3. Stefanie Fernández, Watch Kendrick Lamar And SZA’s Ethereal Video For ‘All The Stars’, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Feb. 6, 2018) https://www.npr.org/event/music/583738739/watch-kendrick-lamar-and-szas-ethereal-video-for-all-the-stars [https://perma.cc/J3FB-JK89].

  4. Robin Pogrebin, Artist Says Kendrick Lamar Video for ‘Black Panther’ Song Stole Her Work, N.Y. Times (Feb. 11, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/11/arts/black-panther-kendrick-lamar-lina-iris-viktor.html [https://perma.cc/6855-NG5F].

  5. Id.

  6. Id.

  7. Id.

  8. Id.

  9. Id.

  10. Id.

  11. Nicole Malick, Zara Slapped with Copyright Infringement Lawsuit, The Fashion Law (Nov. 3 2016) http://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/zara-slapped-with-copyright-infringement-lawsuit [https://perma.cc/223R-EAYC].

Melissa Romain

Melissa Romain is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and is a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. Melissa is most interested in the entertainment industry, and aims to building her career in that field.