Within days of Rihanna releasing her new single, “S&M”, the artist had already been hit by controversy over the song title and provocative lyrics, with BBC Radio One censoring the words S&M, whips and chains. Adding to injury it has now been announced that fashion photographer David LaChapelle has filled a million dollar copyright infringement lawsuit against the video, suing Rihanna, her record label, the video’s director and the production company for plagiarising his work.
LaChapelle is renowned for staging brightly coloured, sexually suggestive, surreal shoots; Rihanna’s new video has all of the aforementioned. When compared side-by-side, the video does bear a striking resemblance to the photographer’s work and, in fact, appears to be one of the most blatant attempts at plagiarism seen since the John Lewis “Life” advert.
It could be argued –and has been argued on some fan discussion forums – that images of Rihanna tied up or walking a man on a leash like a dog are generic sadomasochism visuals evoked by the song title, and it’s a coincidence that LaChapelle chose a similar subject. However, other scenes are harder to explain away, for example the image of Rihanna lying semi-naked on a table, surrounded by reporters in clown wigs. The corresponding LaChapelle photo depicts a woman lying in a hospital bed, also half-naked and also surrounded by clowns in business attire.
In his complaint against Rihanna, LaChapelle alleges, “Defendants are wrongly implying to the public that plaintiff was involved in the creation of the Music Video or that plaintiff has endorsed, approved or otherwise consented to its creation.”