Law+Media+Innovation

#PopCultureClass: Beyonce’s September 2018 Vogue Shoot Led to Artistic Inspiration – and Perhaps Copyright Infringement

One of the most popular magazine covers this year is the Vogue September 2018 edition featuring Beyoncé' on the cover. This edition is also history-making because a black photographer, Tyler Mitchell, shot the cover for the first time in Vogue's 126 year history. The inspiring shoot has led to some instances of copying, but is this kind of copying illegal? I think so, and I explain why here.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that black women have dominated many major magazine covers for September 2018.

One of the most popular magazine covers from this important cultural moment is the Vogue September 2018 edition, featuring (1) Beyoncé’s photos both on the cover and inside, and (2) her self-written, long-form captions on issues ranging from body image to motherhood to family heritage. This edition is also history-making – for the first time in Vogue’s 126 year history, a black photographer is responsible for the magazine’s cover. The photographer, 23 year old Tyler Mitchell, was hand-picked by the Queen herself, and I imagine he will be a very busy man for a long time. 

Check out some of his work from the shoot:

Amazing, right?

When art like this hits the public, it inspires many people, especially fans and creators. These kinds of works, with pop culture and/or historical relevance, can become part of discussions for years to come, especially when very popular public figures are involved.

See, for example, the Beyoncé Mass at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral or this art historian’s take on Beyoncé’s pregnancy photos. People love talking about Queen Bey (and I guess I’m no different!).

Beautiful art like this can also lead to imitation. As writer Charles Caleb Colton once said, “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery.” This may be true, but it can also be the basis of a copyright lawsuit.

For example, while scrolling through Twitter a few days ago, I came across this tweet:

For example, while scrolling through Twitter a few days ago, I came across this tweet:

While this artist’s work might be a pretty impressive take on Tyler Mitchell’s original work, it might also be illegal. While I do not mean to ruin the party when it comes to @alicexz’s viral fame, there is a lesson here for creators on both ends of this. See below for the thoughts I tweeted last week.

Creators, have you found yourselves on either end of a similar situation? What was the outcome? Drop a comment or @ me to share your experience.

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