« A modest proposal | Home | The UFP and the Filthy Humans »

Madonna, Bourdin, and Robin

Thu 1 Apr 2010 by mskala Tags used: , ,

In May 2004, pop star Madonna paid an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit with the estate of French erotic photographer Guy Bourdin. The Smoking Gun archived some court papers and a side-by-side comparison of stills from Madonna and Bourdin videos. The similarities are pretty significant; it looks like plagiarism.

The interesting part from my point of view is that Madonna seems to have been the victim of similar plagiarism herself in the matter of the 90-second opening sequence to the 2002 anime series Witch Hunter Robin. The Livejournal posting that everybody linked to when this story first came out, lost its image hosting after a few years and by now has also become locked. But I archived the images, and you can see them below. These are stills from the opening of WHR, stacked up next to stills from a Madonna video called "Take a bow." They're about as close as those other Madonna screenshots were to the Bourdin photos, so if that situation was plagiarism, this one should be as well. To my knowledge, however, there's been no court case here, and it's been enough years now that there probably never will be one.

Edited to clarify: as far as I know, there's been no suggestion that the video "Take a bow" in particular was one of the ones involved in the Madonna/Bourdin case. The claim is not that the WHR opening came from Bourdin by way of Madonna, but only that Madonna's general body of work seems to have suffered the same fate as Bourdin's. The stills at the Smoking Gun link, from videos in the Madonna/Bourdin case, are from other videos and don't much resemble images from WHR.

[[image file="whr_opening/shotm01.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 1]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr01.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 1]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm02.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 2]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr02.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 2]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm03.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 3]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr03.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 3]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm04.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 4]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr04.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 4]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm05.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 5]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr05.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 5]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm06.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 6]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr06.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 6]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm07.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 7]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr07.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 7]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm08.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 8]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr08.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 8]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm09.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 9]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr09.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 9]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm10.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 10]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr10.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 10]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm11.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 11]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr11.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 11]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm12.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 12]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr12.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 12]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm13.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 13]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr13.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 13]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm14.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 14]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr14.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 14]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm15.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 15]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr15.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 15]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm16.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 16]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr16.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 16]" align="inline"]]
[[image file="whr_opening/shotm17.jpg" alt="[Take a Bow screenshot 17]" align="inline"]] [[image file="whr_opening/shotr17.jpg" alt="[Witch Hunter Robin screenshot 17]" align="inline"]]

Share on: Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Reddit Reddit LinkedIn LinkedIn


So, Madonna gets sued for plagiarism, but does not sue others herself. She is not obligated to.

However, I suspect that someone will sue after inheriting the copyright. Not her own children, I trust, but copyright doesn't expire for a long time.
def0 - 2010-04-01 10:36
Steve C
Plagiarism is not a crime. It is something you might be kicked out of school for, or get fired over but it's not something someone can sue over.

If Madonna was sued for copyright infringement for creating a derivative work and assuming she was guilty of it for this then she CANNOT sue someone else. Madonna is well known for protecting her stuff with lawsuits.This is likely the reason why she didn't go after WHR in the first place. She can't. Only the copyright holder (Guy Bourdin) can. And while it's unlikely it's possible WHR got permission from Guy Bourdin. Even if WHR didn't get permission, the animated video intro be significantly different from Bourdin's work.

The derivative work (WHR) of an unauthorized derivative work (Madonna's) ends up in legal limbo. Obviously "inspired by" someone else's work but that work isn't protected by the full extent of the law so they get away with it.

If WHR knew Madonna was infringing Bourdin's work they might have even done this on purpose knowing they could squeak by. While I doubt it, it makes me laugh at the irony if it was true.
Steve C - 2010-04-01 23:46
True, plagiarism isn't a crime, nor a tort, that you could be sued for. However, it often goes hand in hand with copyright infringement (especially in Canada, where plagiarism would usually be an infringement of "moral rights"), and it's the copyright infringement that would be the basis for the legal case.

On the WHR thing, note that as far as I know, there's been no suggestion that "Take a bow" was plagiarized from Bourdin's work; only that WHR was plagiarized from "Take a bow." (Madonna presumably has done *some* original work in her long career, even if not all the work she claimed to do was original.) The allegations in the Bourdin-Madonna case involved other Madonna videos. So the derivative-of-a-derivative question, although interesting in general, probably isn't applicable here.
Matt - 2010-04-02 07:11
The impression I get from a lot of anime openings is that they're tributes rather than plagiarism. The Elfen Lied intro (featuring images inspired by Gustav Klimt) first this profile nicely. Of course, you could call it plagiarism, since the original artist isn't mentioned -- but plagiarism normally takes the form of stealing excerpts, ideas etc. without accreditation -- rather than complete copies of a work reinterpreted in a new medium.
lalala - 2010-04-06 18:29

(optional field)
(optional field)
Answer "bonobo" here to fight spam. ここに「bonobo」を答えてください。SPAMを退治しましょう!
I reserve the right to delete or edit comments in any way and for any reason. New comments are held for a period of time before being shown to other users.