Jazz Singer Esperanza Spalding Sued by Photographer Over Album Cover Art


Grammy Award-winning Jazz singer Esperanza Spalding is currently in the midst of a legal battle with photographer Kevin Ryan over the cover art on her 2012 album Radio Music Society (pictured above). The cover shows Spalding sitting atop a vintage boombox that is actually a sculpture made of pictures attached to a wooden box.

Spalding and her people chose to use the piece on the cover after discovering it at Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space. The issue is that they neglected to credit or license Ryan, who was the photographer behind the photos on the box.

Calling the boombox her “totem,” Spalding has since used the image as a stage prop, selling it on T-shirts and e-cards, and failing to credit Ryan even after he requested that she do so. Ironically, Ryan is actually a fan of Spalding’s, but given the commercial use he can’t just let this one go.

In an interview with The New York Post, he explains:

I love Esperanza, and I love her music, and, actually, I like the image … but you wish people would have done their due diligence.

As a result of that lack of diligence, Ryan has chosen to sue Spalding for $500K in Manhattan federal court. As of now, Spalding has declined to comment on the suit.

(via The New York Post via The Boombox)

  • David

    Hipsters gonna hip.

  • Mansgame

    As Seinfeld would say, “good luck with that”. Maybe give him a $100 so he can buy a nice steak dinner.

  • Al

    Obviously this wasn’t a case of not knowing the rules. Her camp blatantly stole the photographer’s intellectual property despite being given a chance to make good.

  • Jim Felt

    If he contacted her or her management and they blew him off I’m very pleased that he’s not caving. What was she and her management thinking? If anything. . She makes her money through copyright protection and so do photographers.
    Good for him!

  • Ralph Hightower

    I read an article either on Petapixel or Fstoppers where a sculpter used a photograph of a couple holding a handful of puppies as a parody. So far, the courts have sided with the photographer. Based on the article and not the court documents, Spalding ablum art is a derivative work and in violation of copyrights.

  • derekdj

    500K? Talk about the need for tort reform. He’s taking a page out of the RIAA suing grandma for $2 million dollars. $500K is more than what Steven Meisel charges for a full album cover shoot (that includes photo assistants, studio fees, catering, stylists, hotel and airfare, artist chauffeurs).

  • John Kantor

    He has no chance of winning – or of ever selling another photo to a musician or collaborating with an artist.

  • stijn

    As a photographer myself I’m pretty sensitive about copyrigths. But let’s be honest: it doen’t seem like the creative part has anything to with Ryan. Ryan provided a picture, but the ‘image’ was made by sculptor Ryan Humphrey. Unless the image was exactly like the one on the boombox – but why doesn’t Ryan show the original picture?

    This remains very unclear in the Petapixel article btw, which is quite sad in an article about copyrights… The artist that made the boombox isn’t even mentioned!

    What’s next? The lumberjack that chopped the tree sueing for the wood used? The designer of the original boombox that Ryan photographed sueing Ryan?

    Granted, there should have been a contract where al is made clear about the use of the pictures. But then this looks like something between the photographer and the sculptor, not the singer.

  • Brian Grady

    In a related question was the industrial designer who drew the boombox able to be reached for comment on his lawsuit against this guy for not crediting him for designing and building the device that was photographed. For that matter what about the lawsuit against the boombox designer from the pen manufacturing company that built the pen the guy designed the boombox with for not crediting them for there pen construction.
    Ok, maybe a bit too far, but if there is a line, where is it drawn?

  • lidocaineus

    Not really sure what that has to do with this article…?

  • Marco Santa Cruz

    Think about it… it’s no longer just an album cover… she’s milking this thing.. 20-30 bucks for a shirt at a concert… give him a dollar from each shirt… a percentage from each e-card.. or whatever that is… slowly it adds up… lets say to 25 grand… the thing is… her pr could have paid someone $100 bucks to design something jiffy quick, bought the copyright… done… when you don’t do that… you don’t just go back to the store and pay for the stolen goods… you also pay a price on top of that….

  • Moe Shahheidari

    Couldn’t agree more :)

  • KR

    These statements are factually incorrect. This person was not present at the photo shoot of the boom box. The original photographs prove that the photographs are, in fact, of a real boom box not a copy, not a model, not a prop nor an artwork, none of which was in fact “signed”.