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What We Can Learn from Kendrick Lamar and SZA's Plagiarism Lawsuit

Rule number one of the Internet: Thou Shalt Not Steal Artwork That Ain’t Yours.

One of the unspoken rules of producing, distributing and engaging with content we wouldn’t have normally had access to offline? Thou Shalt Not Steal Artwork That Ain’t Yours.

Lina Iris Viktor, British-Liberian artist known for her opulent, Afrocentric aesthetic in her work, has accused Black Panther of stealing her artwork.

And she’s not the only one who thinks so:

The New York Times reported that Lina has claimed her body of work, entitled ‘Constellations‘, was used in the music video for the Black Panther soundtrack single All The Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA.

The artist’s lawyer, Christopher Robinson, sent a letter to the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, the record label both Kendrick Lamar and SZA are signed with.

‘With the great power of the Internet, comes great responsibility’

According to the letter, Lina was approached by Black Panther not once, but twice, and declined to contribute her work to the film. The artist doesn’t seem like she’s here for any publicity stunts or attention.

Lina states in the letter that she’s willing ‘to discuss a resolution of all her claims, consisting, at a minimum, of a public apology for the unauthorised use and a licence fee.’

You’d think that plagiarism is widely understood in the age of digital intellectual property that lives indefinitely on the interwebs, but maybe the rules have been blurred. The problem with sharing content on platforms like Instagram and Facebook is that in return for our unlimited use, the companies own the rights to your images, thoughts and ideas.

It’s a catch-22, where getting your name out there and building your brand – a necessary part of being a visible artist – also means you’re inadvertently giving away your creative intellectual property to Corporate America.

In the New York Times piece, Lina points out the sad irony of Black Panther producers using her artwork in a music video to promote the film’s soundtrack.

‘When does the line between being influenced and straight-up catfishing get crossed?’

‘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,’ said Lina.

It can be hard to pave an original path when too many artists are using intertextuality as an excuse for plagiarism. When does the line between being influenced and straight-up catfishing get crossed? It’s a question on everybody’s minds as we see entire narratives being appropriated for profit, with the original artists left in the legal dust.

There’s been a surge of reports of designers, musicians and artists plagiarising the work of creatives they see expressing themselves on social media platforms.

Think Dapper Dan vs Gucci, Zara vs Tuesday Bassen and Rupi Kaur vs Nayyirah Waheed, to name a few.

I've been pretty quiet about this, until now. Over the past year, @zara has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off–it's been a lot of you). I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I'm an indie artist and they're a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far. 〰 It sucks and it's super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine. ⚡️ EDIT: Some of you are asking how you can help. Repost and tag them, on Twitter, on Insta, on Facebook. I don't want to have to burden any of you with the financial strain that comes with lawsuits.

A post shared by Tuesday Bassen (@tuesdaybassen) on

In response to the industry’s problematic culture of stealing artwork, Diet Prada is a refreshing Instagram account dedicated to calling out brands for appropriation. Scrolling through their infamous feed gives us a sobering look into just how much designers and brands take from what isn’t theirs.

Beyond online plagiarism being criminally disrespectful (fraud and copyright infringement, much?), it directly impacts someone else’s livelihood. Paying the bills isn’t an easy task, and in an industry saturated with mediocrity it’s even more difficult to get noticed for your art and get paid for it.

It’s time for pop-culture icons and designers to give credit where it’s sorely due.

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