PetaPixel

At What Point Does Inspiration Turn Into Copyright Infringement?

At what point does inspiration turn into plagiarism? That’s the question that popped up last year when Rhianna was sued by David LaChapelle over scenes found in one of her music videos, and it’s the same issue with a lawsuit recently filed by photographer Janine Gordon against photographer Ryan McGinley. Gordon claims that 150 of McGinley’s images — including some used for a Levi’s ad campaign — are “substantially based” on her photos. In the three pairs of disputed images shown above, the ones on the left are by Gordon and the ones on the right by McGinley.

Here are some of the exhibits provided as evidence by Gordon:

Gordon claims the issue started 10 years ago after both artists had exhibitions at the Whitney Biennial and a number of other galleries.

Although McGinley has offered a “very modest settlement” in an effort to have the lawsuit dropped, [See update below] Gordon is pushing forward and seeing $30,000 per infringement, or about $4.5 million total.

Rob Haggart over at A Photo Editor writes,

[...] this is where copyright hurts photographers. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before so if you’re not allowed to draw inspiration from and take little parts of other photographers and artists work there’s nothing to take pictures of. I think the case will be impossible to prove in court, but I would guess the point is not to win but to raise awareness, get him to stop and go somewhere else for inspiration.

What are your thoughts on this case and the answer to the question?

(via artnet via A Photo Editor)


Update: McGinley’s gallery has informed us that a “very modest settlement” was never offered by McGinley. Also, they write that the photo used in the final comparison that’s attributed to McGinley was actually shot by Cass Bird for a New York Magazine cover.


Image credits: Photographs by Janine Gordon and Ryan McGinley


 
  • Confuzzlebot

    So, two moments in time and ideas for photographs resemble something else.
    That is like saying I take a picture of a person with their face in a shocked expression and in the top left third of the screen with their right ear and face right on the edge of frame or even off of it. Does that mean if someone has taken an image even remotely similar it is subject to copyright infringement?

    This case should be thrown out, apart from the first one I’d say the rest are coincident or inspiration and nothing more. If he had just plainly gone and used the original photos then that is different. Maybe if he had inspiration (just like the LaChappy case) then he could have got permission to publish the photographs. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/granttaylorphotos Grant Taylor

    I personally don’t see much resemblance between the two photographers work. Janine Gordon’s work is not really unique. I agreed with LaChapelle’s lawsuit because his work does have a very unique look to it. The part that I could see being a problem is that they new each other and had displayed work together meaning he did have knowledge of her work but does that mean he could never have a photo showing two people kissing?

  • Darlene Bouchard

    To say his work is a ripping off her is a complete stretch.  The picture of the couple kissing is a great example- she could find millions of other images everywhere that are equally similar

  • http://www.facebook.com/happytinfoilcat HappyTinfoil Cat

    Professional photography controls every little element in a photo and small differences make large impacts. These all have very few elements in common. Even though these elements may not be coincidental, they certainly don’t rise to the level of infringement. I could name more elements different than the same.

    I’m guessing the lawsuit is to meant more to cause a financial load via lawyers’ fees than to actually try to win this frivolous lawsuit. It sends a message, “Do anything even resembling my genre and I will punk your starving artist ass with a lawsuit.”

  • Jeffrey Remick

    The examples given are hogwash. Throw the case out.

  • http://sevennine.net Marc

    wow, that’s weak

  • Anonymous

    Normally when I see examples of alleged plagiarism, there is something worth conceding as at least a possibility.   Here, I’m not seeing it, not with the given examples.  I mean, the last example largely claims based on the same three general and common colors of shorts and having a similar fraction of the frame, even if the pose is very different.

  • Mike Spivey

    I’m not sure about the law, but it sure is creepy.

    The old saw about one oof shot is a mistake, a bunch of them is a style. If there are 150 “similars”, that would be a pretty good style. Still, the originals are so bland, it makes you wonder why go to the effort. Still creeps me out. Looks to me more like harassment than copyright.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=673406604 Jon Liebold

    If I were the judge I would throw out the case, sanction the Gordon’s lawyer, and suggest McGinley press malicious prosecution charges against Gordon. The claim is utter hogwash.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelRpdx Michael Rasmussen

    She needs to get a life.  The first pair, arguably the one with the “strongest case” involves such a common gesture as to be meaningless.

    Based on her criteria musicians would be suing each other “I used the F chord, so did he.”  “I had a C E G sequence of eighth notes in a measure of my music, so did she.”

    Elements are not rips.

  • http://twitter.com/roblarosa Rob LaRosa

    Absolutely. This is a ridiculous law suit.

  • Weap10

    Looks like there’s more to this story than meets the camera.

  • Graham Case

    Yeah, this is BS. I’m not a fan of McGinley’s work, but Gordon is basically trying to copyright a kiss (example 2), and other generic gestures.

    Even if McGinley was “inspired” by Gordon’s work, the work in question is so benign, much of it could even be stock work (ex. 1, 2, and 3).

    It’s one thing to protect your copyright when there’s a clear infringement, but taking action for actions sake is ludicrous; the internet will drag Gordon’s name through the mud for this.

  • Graham Case

    Yeah, this is BS. I’m not a fan of McGinley’s work, but Gordon is basically trying to copyright a kiss (example 2), and other generic gestures.

    Even if McGinley was “inspired” by Gordon’s work, the work in question is so benign, much of it could even be stock work (ex. 1, 2, and 3).

    It’s one thing to protect your copyright when there’s a clear infringement, but taking action for actions sake is ludicrous; the internet will drag Gordon’s name through the mud for this.

  • Rjccourt

    Pretty soon EVERYTHING will be copyright infringement.  All copyright is, is a way for the House of Mouse and other big media companies to perpetuate a monopoly.  The original intent of the constitution was for copyright to last “a limited time.”  The current copyright law has turned all copyright into an unlimited mess.  It also ignores all common sense as to how musicians, artists and others are inspired by others.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1667580180 Matt Tog Wagg

    So one crappy photographer isn’t making an impact with their pictures, so they sue. Very lame but there’s been a lot of it around.

  • Hysyanz

    I think that the fact that Ryan McGinley has the same concepts for some many images says alot. i think is it were just one images then a case couldn’t be made. but it each image was from a different photographer.

  • http://twitter.com/Soiden Sebastián Soto

    I see more similarities in those father-and-son photos from the space shuttle launches.

  • Anonymous

    Plausible for inspiration, busted for copyright infringement.  Let’s face it, all of us lift concepts, ideas, composition and lighting from photography we see.  If this suit goes forward then anyone and everyone can ring up their lawyer and start suing.  What this lady needs is an older photographer to come along with their photo and start snatching elements out her shots and making the case that she stole from them.  I imagine the suit would be dropped rather quickly.

  • Graysmith

    Holy shit. Are we sure this isn’t taken from The Onion?

    I hope some photographer drags up photos they took when Janine Gordon was still in diapers and sue her for stealing their ideas for her photos. Jay Maisel, are you reading this? We need your help here.

    Is this thing genuinely going to trial? Is this really not immediately being thrown out for being utterly and completely ridiculous? Gordon ought to be paying the court for wasting their time.

    Sorry Christians, but Jesus Fucking Christ.

  • http://www.casagli.com Alessandro Casagli

    don’t feed the troll (Gordon). That’s exactly what it looks wants, create a case based on nothing just to get noticed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick020200 Rick Bennett

    Wait, let me get this straight… one exhibit of an infringing element is “light is mostly bouncing of the girls face”? To quote another commenter, Jesus Fucking Christ. Get a damn life. Oh, and try to make money from photography, not litigation. Not for this.

  • Phillipoking

    okay; so were does end? It ends with this; if you copy others work than you have no style to begin with; you are not going to go far this way.
    Is it copyright infringement sure it is. is it worth a law suit nope. why because the original artiest has plenty more were that came from and the other artiest has nothing but a copped piece of work.

  • http://eatswaylove.com Matthew S.

    with that photo examples, he can sue everyone in the earth.. or maybe other planets if aliens take photos too.. It’s ridiculous…!

  • Rob

    Im sure at leas one of her “signature style” images involves a smiling animal.  Sue the Monkeys too!!!

    Im with tossing it and sanctioning the lawyers.  And I hope the judge tells both of them their images suck.

  • Jonas Andersen

    Holy batmobile! Most of Gordons images are so ordinary that many could have taken them. I’m stunned that she would even think to sue. I hope the Internet community of photographers drag Janine Gordon through the gutter. Let her name forever be smeared by this stupid decision to sue.

  • Melinda Keown

    Its okay to draw inspiration off others’ work but the case in question seems to be a sort of ‘photography-style stalker’ case. Where the (un)original photographer is chasing just one persons work. So yes, they should find another photographer to stalk! Sued? Thats not my decision but their name will suffer from this story alone, so they are their own worst enemy;)

  • mrbeard

    i think the main point here is that the photographers know each other, if it was a random person on the internet claiming copyright it would be dismissed as a laugh but personally, if they were my images and a photographer i knew was copying my style and making money from it, i’d be pretty annoyed  

  • Gregg

    Sounds like a lovers quarrel to me…

  • Carole

    These photos couldn’t possible be seen as copies – they aren’t remotely similar.  If they are deemed so, then most, if not all, of the photographs taken by any of us, are also.  If you took a picture of Mt Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, they you have copied me – because I took those also.  Or did I copy someone else who took them earlier than I did.  Where does it end?  We see things all throughout life – some of it shows up in a photograph – does that mean I copied someone else? No. 

    It appears that these 2 people are around each other, so duh – there is some similarity in their work.  It’s part of proximity, but I see no direct plagiarism going on here.

    As Rob Haggart says above “There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before..”  If you cannot use your imagination (which is influenced by other images and of your life experiences), there is nothing left.  And what about painters?  This is just a way to get publicity and maybe some undeserved money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695530812 Emanuel Brunson

    This case is ridiculous.   So essentially she can sue anybody who makes an exposure of a couple kissing if it vaguely looks like her image.  How many different poses can we come up with?  That’s like the yearbook photographer from last year suing the yearbook photographer of this year because the composition is the same and people are holding their heads the same way.

  • Bod

    Both sets of images are bland – is this further ‘infringement’?!

    Also I have noticed that my legs bend in a V shape – will I wind up in court?

    These claims denigrate photography. Harassment indeed. Nice one Mike.

  • Bod

    Cliches are cliches. Neither ‘photographer’ has shown any images of quality.

  • Bod

    You call her work ‘style’!! Seems I need to consult my dictionary.

  • Bod

    Her ‘Kiss’ image is a totally blatant rip-off of the ‘Kiss’ series by Rankin. Sue her ass.

  • mrbeard

    i meant as in people jumping in front of an artificial sky, yeah its rubbish and naff but not everyone takes pictures like that, she could take pictures of anything and in any style but she chose to do jumping in front of an artificial sky, hmmm

  • mrbeard

    i meant as in people jumping in front of an artificial sky, yeah its rubbish and naff but not everyone takes pictures like that, she could take pictures of anything and in any style but she chose to do jumping in front of an artificial sky, hmmm

  • http://twitter.com/DanMarshPhoto Dan

    She has taken photos of tattoos, and published them in some over-priced book.  I wonder if the tattoo artists were paid royalties. ;)

    Mostly her work seems unremarkable to me, seems to lack any technical ability with a camera.

    Like a monkey with a Rubik’s Cube.

  • http://twitter.com/DanMarshPhoto Dan

    She has taken photos of tattoos, and published them in some over-priced book.  I wonder if the tattoo artists were paid royalties. ;)

    Mostly her work seems unremarkable to me, seems to lack any technical ability with a camera.

    Like a monkey with a Rubik’s Cube.

  • http://twitter.com/DanMarshPhoto Dan

    She has taken photos of tattoos, and published them in some over-priced book.  I wonder if the tattoo artists were paid royalties. ;)

    Mostly her work seems unremarkable to me, seems to lack any technical ability with a camera.

    Like a monkey with a Rubik’s Cube.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

    I think it Gordon insists on taking this to court, she’s going to get her ass kicked.

  • Andy

    I have thousands of photographs with couples kissing!  I’m going to be ruined! LOL