Early in 2010, Beyoncé premiered a new music video from her most recent CD titled “Video Phone,” which features Lady Gaga. During the music video, Beyoncé changes into a variety of futuristic fashions to compliment her hair whipping and matching choreographed routine with Lady Gaga.
Most fans do not know that Beyoncé was sued in court for a fashion design that she wore for a mere 50 seconds of the music video. To make matters worse, she lost her case, when a German court sided with the plaintiff and banned “Video Phone” from the entire country of Germany, including through Germany’s YouTube.
Allegedly, Triumph International, a European lingerie company, claimed Beyoncé violated a copyright by wearing a two-piece outfit for 50 seconds. The outfit in question consisted of a Picasso inspired two piece bra and panty with black and white abstract art design with thigh high black boots, elbow length bangles, and black and white futuristic sunglasses.
Triumph argued that the designs originated from Iskren Lozanov’s “Day and Night” fashion entry in Triumph’s 2009 Inspiration Contest. Lozanov is a Bulgarian fashion designer whose design appeared in Italian Vogue and who was the 2009 winner of Triumph’s Inspiration Award fashion contest. As a result, the company sued Beyoncé and Sony Music Entertainment for injunctive relief in the German Courts.
Although the attorneys through Sony Music Entertainment and Beyoncé` counter argued that the Beyoncé’s design was not copied, even if it was inspired by Pablo Picasso, the German court disagreed. In fact, the court found that Lozanov’s design was so original that it warranted extensive protection under its international fashion copyright law.
The German court even admitted that Beyoncé’s fashion design was not identical to Lozanov’s original design. However, they sided with Triumph, because they believed Beyoncé’s fashion was “confusingly similar” to Lozanov’s fashion design.
A “confusingly similar” design is one that a consumer could mistakenly identify or associated with an original fashion designer, when in fact, it was created by someone else. Many courts, both abroad and in the United States, dislike “confusingly similar” fashion designs, because they tend to function as tricks and enticements to consumers that fashion counterfeiters use to strip away profits from original designers.
Here, the difference is Beyonce was not selling a fashion design. She promoted her music. It appears that Triumph may have retaliated through court, because Beyoncé rejected their offer for her to participate as a guest panelist in their 2010 Triumph Inspiration competition in exchange for using her own un-identical Picasso fashion design without Triumph suing.
In the end, Beyonce’s “Video Phone” topped the R&B charts as #1 in the United States. Still, the German ban prevented Beyonce from accumulating additional profits from German single LP sales, mp3 downloads, and YouTube views, all of which with the exception of YouTube videos, are unrelated to the screening of her video.
Some critics suggest this may be one instance where fashion copyright was enforced too harshly and applied to broadly due to the celebrity status of Beyoncé. Despite the unfavorable result for Beyonce’s single LP sales in Germany, Lozanov and Triumph International gained added publicity for a fashion design that probably was relatively unheard of internationally.
Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger Staff. “Sony’s triumph in the laundry,” ksta.de.
Peter Muehlbauer. “Sony as “pirates,” heise.de.
Sylvia Madina. ” Young Bulgarian designers gained great success,” Bgfashion.net.
The IP Kat. ” Friday Frivolity: Beyonce’s pirated bikini,” IPKitten.blogspot.com.