Chris Brown recently released a music video for his new single, "Wobble Up" featuring Nicki Minaj and G-Eazy. According to a press release from Brown's publicist, he co-directed the visual with Arrad which "switches between shots of the three hitmakers in paradise, and Brown performing some impressive choreography alongside a crowd of dancers in a neon-lit room." However, multiple artists have come forward with allegations that the R&B singer copied their visual work without credit or permission since the video was uploaded on May 20.
Marius Sperlich, Tony Futura, Vanessa McKeown, and Catherine Losing are all accusing Brown and Arrad of infringing upon their intellectual property. People have also pointed out that Jamie Calderon's censored fruit art was blatantly borrowed for one of the concepts in the visual as well.
Following a series of posts that the creatives have been sharing on Instagram to bring more attention to the situation, Sperlich provided a statement exclusively to Highsnobiety:
"At first I was made aware of the strong similarities of my works with the corresponding scenes from the music video by my community. The funny thing is that I am so used to this, that I wasn’t even surprised. My work is used on album covers, iPhone-cases, clothes, digital designs and so on-without permission. It’s not easy to claim your rights these days. People easily stay anonymous. It’s frustrating. It kills the vibe of an artistic soul and this is the most fucked up thing about it.
So this situation obviously is not the first time this has happened to me and my work, and neither am I the only artist regularly suffering under plagiarism and theft of IP. Nowadays it’s very easy to copy things. If you go to Pinterest and browse for a while you will definitely find some artworks that were copied in the video and a lot of other ones. It’s a new generation of digital artists, that have gained a lot of attention over the last years - especially on inspirational blogs. The displayed artworks are known in the creative scene, because they all have their own style/corporate identity.
Just as my artworks often have an ethical message, dealing with them should be respectful and legal. Ideally, this includes a request from the production company and a corresponding agreement to use the works and ideas. At least, however, an appreciation of the artistic achievement should take place through a naming in the communication.
For many the internet is just an open source of concepts, ideas and free content. Few people care about creation, originals and credit anymore. Today nobody has time for this. The industry is fast and this is why it’s so much more important to do a little research. Credit where it’s due! Theft of I.P. happens a lot and if you stay silent, you enable them. #changeindustry"
Losing found out about "Wobble Up" through messages from friends the morning after the video came out. They immediately recognized the resemblance of a photograph that she previously made a few years ago of a pair of melons in a red bra. She argues that Sperlich has "the most reason to feel angry" because "his concept was such a huge part of the video" with the shot of the huge ass. Losing decided to make a post on Instagram Stories and tag the other artists that were plagiarized which was how McKeown discovered that her aubergine balloon photo was used in the video.
"What got me is the number of artists that they copied," Losing says. "I’ve been shooting conceptual still life photography for 10 years and have a really good knowledge of my peer’s work. I counted five photographers whose work had clearly been copied."
As an international photographer and director, Losing has experienced "numerous law suits with photographers, magazines and advertising agencies," many of which have "resulted in compensation." In response, she's taken the necessary steps to legally protect her work and even participates in lectures on copyright to educate more artists about it in London where she is currently based. In her opinion, "it's important for people to call it out because these ideas are how we make a living."
"I’m a member of DACS, which is great for British artists when they want advice on licensing work or have copyright issues," she says. "Also, Trunk Archive manage my archive in the US and offer great legal help. I totally appreciate that work gets re-appropriated and people are inspired by each other, but this is just embarrassing. A whole team of professionals with a budget couldn’t even come up with their own ideas or mix things up a bit. When I was looking it up this morning all of our shots even came up on the same Pinterest feed. Lazy, lazy behaviour."
This isn't the first time that any of the artists' work has been copied and it surely won't be the last. Futura also expressed his frustration over the ordeal in an exclusive statement:
"I‘m not even that angry. It‘s just sad. Sad for all artists and creatives out there that strive to create original ideas and try to enrich our world with their work. It’s sad that Marius, me and the other artists were not involved in any way and it’s sad that our work gets dragged through some lame ass music video that wouldn’t be worth anything without our genuine work.
But the ultimate problem for artists like us is that on one hand, we have to put our work out there, to stay active and stay relevant through our output. But on the other hand our work floats around the web, gets reposted and the original source apparently blurs away. And with it our very right on our intellectual property. This has to stop and that’s why we are trying to get attention on the topic.”
McKeown admits that there isn't really a proper way to go about fully protecting creative ideas from being stolen, even citing how she probably wasn't the first person to come up with the concept for a fruit ballon. However, she emphasizes the important of creatives understanding the difference between "taking inspiration and straight up imitation."
"Saying all this, I really don’t want artists and myself to be terrified to make anything in case it looks similar to anything," McKeown says. "Nothing is truly original, it’s built up from other things. You just have be inspired by lots of stuff and build on ideas and take it to another level to make something look fresh and new."
Personally speaking, Losing isn't seeking anything from Brown or Arrad out of this particular incident. "I’m not holding my breath for anything," she says. "But definitely not a credit for a Chris Brown video, thank you."
McKeown adds, "If someone took Chris Brown's lyrics or sampled his song without permission, I don’t think he would be very chuffed."
Representatives for Chris Brown and Arrad were not immediately available for comment before this article was published. Stay tuned here for more updates on this developing story.