Fashion photographer David LaChapelle is known for staging photo shoots with lots of bright colors, surreal sexy images and outrageous costumes. And the latest music video from pop star Rihanna is full of bright colors, surreal sexy images and outrageous costumes. It looks so familiar to LaChapelle that he's filed a million-dollar lawsuit for copyright infringement.

NPR's Zoe Chace tells us more.


RIHANNA: Na, na, na, come on.

ZOE CHACE: The video features Rihanna at the center of various S&M fantasy scenes. And many of the scenes look an awful lot like specific David LaChapelle photographs. But let's just pick one.


RIHANNA: (Singing) I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it.

CHACE: Rihanna is lying on a table, wearing almost nothing, surrounded by a bunch of reporters in clown wigs. The LaChapelle picture in the lawsuit features a woman lying on a hospital bed, wearing almost nothing, surrounded by a bunch of clowns in business suits.

JASON KING: It's a very tricky field.

CHACE: Jason King is a music professor at NYU. He says this kind of borrowing or stealing is just the way it works for pop stars.

KING: They borrow images in a kind of grab bag aesthetic from anywhere that they want, and there's a kind of ubiquity of unsourced images out there in the kind of Flickr era that we live in.

CHACE: Jason King says that the copy-and-paste impulse of the Internet age is just as common as the borrowing of a guitar riff or a lyric in today's pop music. Rihanna does that all the time.


RIHANNA: (Singing) Please don't stop the music, music.

KING: Her song "Please Don't Stop the Music," which came out in 2007, was produced by two Scandinavian producers, Stargate, and she herself is from the Caribbean. The song borrowed from Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Starting Something."


KING: Gospelized funk track from 1983 that itself borrows from Manu Dibango, who's a Cameroonian jazz artist.


MANU DIBANGO: (Singing) Mama ko mama sa maka makoosa. Mama ko mama sa maka makoosa. Mama ko...

KING: Which itself was a riff on James Brown funk of 1960s. And I think that's very reflective of the kind of culture in which we live, in which there's this constant feedback loop of borrowing.

CHACE: Music videos have always borrowed images. Think of Madonna's video for "Material Girl," which looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." But Jason King says imitating alone is not enough.

KING: I think there's a sort of unspoken idea in the making of popular culture that if you're going to copy something, at least the copy should zig where the original zags, some way in which it improves upon the original.

CHACE: David LaChapelle may be serving Rihanna, King says, just to remind the world that his pictures exist because Rihanna's video is not a commentary on his work if you don't already know his photographs.

Rihanna's label wouldn't comment for this story, but LaChapelle's assistant, Hugo Martinez, read me the photographer's statement.

HUGO MARTINEZ: This is not personal. It's strictly business.

CHACE: To show how tight they are, he calls Rihanna, RiRi, as, I guess, all her friends do.

MARTINEZ: And he thinks about RiRi every time he's caught in the rain without his umbrella. That is his comment.


RIHANNA: (Singing) You can stand under my umbrella. You can stand under my umbrella.

CHACE: Zoe Chace, NPR News.


RIHANNA: (Singing) Eh, eh, eh. Under my umbrella. Ella, ella. Eh, eh, eh.

NORRIS: And you can watch Rihanna's video at nprmusic.org.


RIHANNA: (Singing) Ella, ella. Eh, eh, eh. Under my umbrella. Ella, ella. Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh. These fancy things will never come in between. You're part of my entity, here for infinity. When the war has took its part, when the world has dealt its cards, if the hand is hard...

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.