Filmmaker Suing Beyoncè Over “Lemonade” Video
Filmmaker Matthew Fulks recently sued Beyoncé, her Parkwood Entertainment LLC production company, Columbia Recording Corp., Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and HBO for copyright infringement. So why is this filmmaker suing Beyoncè?
The lawsuit claims Beyoncé and the other defendants took a substantial amount of elements for her chart-topping hit visual album “Lemonade” from Fulks’ short film, “Palinoia.” Specifically, Fulks alleges the defendants unlawfully took 39 seconds of the 65-second trailer for Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” from his film. Furthermore, Fulks claimed the executives and developers involved in the making of “Lemonade” all had access to his film prior to production.
Fulks alleges that “Beyoncé took elements for ‘Lemonade’ from his short film.”
The plaintiff’s case
In his complaint filed in New York federal court, Fulks accused the defendants of taking the overall structure of his short film as the basis for “Lemonade.” The complaint alleges the defendants took several unique camera shots and the rapid montage style of the visuals, along with a poem narrated over a specific audio soundtrack, from Fulks.
As evidence of the copyright infringement, Fulks pointed to key auditory time signatures and unusual graphic elements that were similar to his film. Fulks claims there are nine exact visual similarities that totaled 39 seconds of still shots and auditory charts, with a similar use of storytelling style. The visual similarities allegedly included:
- Graffiti and persons with their heads down.
- Red persons with eyes obscured.
- Parking garage imagery.
- Stairwell visuals.
- Black and white eyes.
- Title card screens.
- The grass scene.
- Feet on the street.
- Side-lit ominous figures.
Proof of knowledge
Fulks alleged Bryan Younce, a senior vice-president of video and content production at Columbia Music Entertainment, approached him about producing a music video for the company’s recording group, MS MR. Columbia was the same record label that produced Lemonade. When Younce invited Fulks to submit storyboards and a development plan for a video, Fulks sent “Palinoia” to Younce.
Five months later, “Lemonade” production began.
The significance of the case
Fulks seeks damages and all profits attributed to the exploitation of “Palinoia.” This will include profits made from “Lemonade” on all media formats. Such profits could be quite substantial considering the commercial success of “Lemonade.”
On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, Judge Jed Rakoff of US District Court, Southern District of New York, dismissed the suit claiming copyright infringement by Beyonce’s “Lemonade” film. The judge granted Beyonce’s motion to dismiss without much explanation, but stated a more complete ruling would follow.
This outcome is not surprising, as many, if not all, of the elements claimed by Plaintiff as copyrightable were, as the star’s motion to dismiss put it, “so broad as to be meaningless.” I expect that Beyonce’s team will now move for attorney’s fees, which will be analyzed under the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons Inc. In Kirtsaeng, the Supreme Court clarified the standard for analyzing such claims, advising courts to focus on the “objective reasonableness” of the case, while also considering all “circumstances of a case on their own terms.” Even under this more holistic approach, Beyonce has a legitimate shot at prevailing on this issue.