Marvel representatives and the company’s PR firm twice approached Viktor seeking permission to use her work, first in November 2016 and then again in December of 2017, according to the complaint. The first time, set decorator Jay Hart requested to use one of her paintings in the film itself, but the artist found that the “financial and artistic terms offered for her collaboration were not acceptable,” according to the complaint.
More than a year later, a representative of the DDA, the PR firm working on behalf of Marvel and Disney, contacted Viktor with the idea of creating Black Panther
promotional material inspired by the film. Viktor, who was preparing for a presentation of her artwork at The Armory Show
in New York in March 2018, again rejected the offer due to what she viewed as a restrictive licensing agreement.
Viktor first became aware of the alleged infringement after friends who viewed Lamar’s video, which was released in February, thought she had licensed her work. The section that prompted the lawsuit begins at around the 2:59 mark of the video, and shows Lamar walking through a gold-patterned set which the suit alleges “copies exactly or in close approximation” elements of work from Viktor’s “constellation series.”
Along with charging that the set copied the “look and feel” of Viktor’s series, the complaint lays out several specific smaller elements within the design that closely resemble parts of the artist’s work.
“Once someone copies specific forms and copies the total concept, look, and feel, then you’re into copyright infringement territory,” wrote Michael D. Murray, a law professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law, in an email to Artsy.
On Monday, Viktor posted a statement
on Facebook to thank the public for support and wrote, “Feel reassured—I am seeking justice.”
But a victory in court may still prove challenging. The general style of a piece is not copyrightable alone, experts say. And the defendants could argue that the specific elements highlighted by the suit are a small enough part of the overall set and video itself that they fall under the “de minimis” exception to copyright law.
“The case will largely be dependent on whether any of the similarities, any of the taking of the work, is subject to copyright protection,” said Yolanda M. King, a law professor at Northern Illinois University. “From a legal perspective, [Viktor] has an uphill battle,” King added.
Representatives for Lamar and the other parties in the dispute declined or could not be reached for comment. But some involved with the film have distanced themselves from the video. After the New York Times
published a story on the dispute on February 11th, roughly a week ahead of the lawsuit, “the people involved in making the film said they played no role in the creation of the video,” according
to the paper.