As our In the Air blog reported on Friday, French artist Orlan is suing Lady Gaga in a Paris court on charges of having ripped off her art for the “Born This Way” album and video. The artist is seeking $31.5 million in damages or 7.5 percent of the album’s profits. ARTINFO recently spoke with Orlan’s attorney, Philippe Dutilleul-Francoeur — a specialist in art market law — about the particulars of the suit, its basis in French law, and why Orlan waited so long before taking the singer to court.
What exactly is Orlan accusing Lady Gaga of?
We are suing the American singer in Paris civil court for forging two works by Orlan. The first is the sculpture Bumpload (1989), which is extremely similar to the cover of Lady Gaga’s album “Born This Way.” There’s a nude photo of the singer on the album as a hybrid being, with growths protruding from her face and shoulders, just like Orlan in Bumpload. All you have to do is compare them, put them side by side, and it’s very striking. The second work is Woman With Head (1996), which was used by Lady Gaga in the first seconds of her video for “Born This Way.” In it we see the singer’s head placed on Plexiglas and surrounded with decapitated heads, like Orlan’s head in Woman With Head. It’s the same haircut, the same forehead implants, the same make-up. But notice that we’re not attacking Lady Gaga for having copied Orlan’s look, which is an ethical and not a legal issue. We’re accusing her of having forged her artworks, that is, of reproducing them illegally. Every original work of art has a very strict protocol for how it can be used. That is part of intellectual property law.
Which article of the law are you going to cite?
Article L 335 2, which says that “any production without regard to the laws and regulations relating to authors’ property is a forgery and every forgery is an offense.”
You’re referring to two works in particular but also to the plagiarism of Orlan’s artistic universe. What does that mean?
Not only did Lady Gaga reproduce works by the artist, but she also drew inspiration from her concepts. Orlan’s entire universe of hybridizations was copied in the “Born This Way” album, such as giving birth to oneself, which is seen in Orlan’s photography series “Orlan accouche d’elle-m’aime” (1964-66). The inspiration went too far. Many journalists noticed it when the album came out.
So why did Orlan wait so long to sue Lady Gaga? The album came out in 2011, over two years ago.
Orlan hesitated for a long time before making this decision. She contacted me a little while ago. It’s always hard to decide to appeal to the judicial system when you’re dealing with such a famous person as Lady Gaga. Orlan was really shocked that Lady Gaga drew from her work so freely without asking her permission. Without even so much as a phone call.
Have Lady Gaga and Orlan ever spoken to each other?
Not that I know of. And Lady Gaga has never mentioned Orlan’s work either.
People were a bit shocked at the very large sum of damage Orlan is asking for in the lawsuit.
We couldn’t ask for one symbolic euro. I did my research, and Lady Gaga’s profits for the “Born This Way” album were over $400 million.
Do you mean that Lady Gaga owes part of her success to Orlan?
Yes, she owes it to using her artistic universe. Lady Gaga could have asked Orlan to collaborate with her, but she denied this inspiration, most likely because she knew what she did.
What was Lady Gaga’s reaction to the lawsuit?
I haven’t heard back from her yet. Or from her lawyer or from her record label, Universal Music France. We’re waiting.
Do you think you have a chance of winning?
Obviously! Otherwise we never would have taken on a case like this.