Leibovitz takes inspiration from the past

Acclaimed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz is apparently no stranger to giving a gentle nod to her predecessors. The Online Photographer pointed out her Vanity Fair cover (above) of Suri Cruise and parents bore remarkable similarities to Linda McCartney’s portrait of husband Paul which she once described as “one of my favorite pictures of a father holding a baby”.

Other bloggers also noticed the deliberate similarity between Leibovitz’s Vanity Fair cover of Roberts, Clooney, Gore and Kennedy and Irving Penn’s 1948 “Ballet Society” (both shown below). In both cases, the similarity can almost certainly be down to a deliberate ‘nod’ to the visually aware reader.


Tony Stone vs Stephen Arscott

In 1994, Tony Stone Images took both Corel Corporation and Canadian artist Stephen Arscott to court over Arscott’s winning entry “The Real West” in that year’s Corel Draw World Design.

While Arscott had stated on the competition entry form that his image was original, the central image was clearly based on a photograph taken by Tony Stone photographer Nick Vedros featuring a Native American wearing traditional headdress in side profile. The winning entry was also scheduled to appear in Corel’s worldwide marketing campaign.

Arscott, a professional graphic designer at the Arscott, Ticar and Kobli Integrated Communications advertising firm, claimed the image had been created using CorelDraw’s freehand drawing tools.

When initially contacted by Tony Stone, Arscott, who had received $25,000 cash and prizes in excess of $75,000, conceded that he had copied Vedros’ photograph, but that he had not infringed the copyright as he had transfered the medium from a photograph to a painting. In a letter he sent to Vedros, Arscott admitted “I used your photograph of the Potawatamie Indian as a reference for the creation of my piece”

Arscott refused to return the prizes, and instead submitted to Corel a modified version of his original entry, in which the Native American was altered slightly, but which still infringed Vedros’ original work. He also claimed that Vedros had suffered no injury or damage from the infringement.

The Canadian court found in favour of Tony Stone, who had sought $400,000 in damages from Arscott.



Milla Jovovich, pictured (above) in Besson’s film “The Fifth Element”, and (below) in a television advertisment for mobile phone company SFR

Besson vs Publicis

In 2004, film producer Luc Besson was awarded €2,750,000 by a French court in a case brought against advertising agency Publicis and mobile phone company SFR. A series of television adverts for SFR had featured actress Milla Jovovich playing a futuristic redhead in a white vest; Besson had argued that the character was based on his character Lilou from “The Fifth Element”, an orange haired white vested character also played by Milla Jovovich.

Lawyers for Besson argued that the use of the character in the adverts went beyond mere homage, but plagiarised and was ‘parasitical’.

While the Tribunal de grand instance ruled that the companies were guilty of “piggy-backing” on the film – that is, benefiting both creatively and economically from the goodwill from another creative work – it crucially found them not guilty of copyright infringement on the basis that there were not substantial similarities between the film and the advert. The court ruled both that just two physical characteristics were not enough to define a distinct fictional character, and so could not be protected by copyright, and that the set styling belonged to already extant science fiction genre.

During the case, the defence never sought to deny that both the character pictured in the advertising campaign, and the choice of Jovovich to play that character, was inspired by Besson’s work.


Glen Brown vs Tony Roberts


Top:Turner prize nominee Glen Brown’s work “The Loves of Shepherds”; and below, Tony Robert’s work “Dark Star”

In 2000, Turner Prize nominee Glenn Brown was accused of plagiarism by the Times newspaper in what was described as a “stroke by stroke” copy of a work by Anthony Roberts for a science fiction novel cover. Roberts who was originally paid £180 for the work in 1974, confronted Glenn Brown at the awards ceremony. According to the Times, Brown said: “Do you think I would spend six months painting it just to make money out of it?” to which Roberts replied “Of course. Why else would anyone spend six months painting anything?”

Many of Brown’s works are originally based upon works by other artists from masters like Rembrandt to modern science fiction artists which are then altered in colour, tone or cropping.

Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans won the Turner prize that year, and a legal case brought by Roberts against Brown was settled out of court.


Jack Vettriano and The Illustrator’s Figure Reference Manual


Vettriano’s £750,000 “The Singing Butler” with the sketch from the £17 “Illustrator’s Figure Reference Manual”.

In 2005, graphic designer Sandy Robb noticed a number of similarities between some of the hundreds of sketches from the 1987 “Illustrator’s Figure Reference Manual” and much of the early work of Scots painter Jack Vettriano.

Vettriano defended himself by arguing that he used the book for its intended purpose. ““At the time, in 1991, I was sitting in Edinburgh in a small studio. I didn’t have money, I didn’t have access to models and I was using whatever material I could find from reference books, from magazines, from anything.”

“The manual was only a part of the process. I just wish people would look at the figures in that book, compare them with that painting and then tell me honestly that the guy who painted it isn’t creative.”


Not so sweet: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The US Richmond Times-Dispatch fired staff photographer Cindy Blanchard over what its managing editor described as “visual plagiarism”.

The incident hinged on a cover story for the Times-Dispatch’s Metro Business section in which the cover photograph, cover headline, and parts of the written article were almost identical to a similar piece in the rival Style Weekly published nine months earlier.


The original Style cover right, with the subsequent Times-Dispatch cover left.

According to Times-Dispatch managing editor Louise Seals said that Blanchard had submitted a cover image after being told by the confectionary manufacturer of the similar and previously taken photograph.

In a front page apology, Seals did not explain on how the other similarities with headline and article occurred, and refused to elaborate further when contacted by Photo District News.

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