Yesterday, Judge Rakoff dismissed claims that Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” infringed on the short film “Palinoia” through similarities in images, audio, and “total concept and feel.” According to the plaintiff, elements such as a character with his or her head down near a wall with graffiti (elements that appear in scenes from both films, though with many other differences between the shots) are are protectable under the copyright laws.
Judge Rakoff disagreed, and found that the elements of “Palinoia” allegedly infringed upon were unprotectable ideas:
Apparently intent on exploring the boundary between idea and expression, plaintiff alleges that the works share the same narrative theme (“a struggle of a relationship”) and the same aesthetic mood and pace (“a pattern of successive montage of abstract scenes, with unknown or unclear meanings, pieced together in ‘short takes'”). These alleged similarities fall firmly on the side of unprotected ideas. The “struggle of a relationship” is a concept familiar to us all, and plaintiff is not the first individual – or artist – to comment on it. See, e.g., R. Hart-Davis, The Letters of Oscar Wilde 621 (1962) (“[H]earts are made to be broken”); Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble” (2012); but see Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 27 (1975) (“When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.”).
For Judge Rakoff, while some visual elements from scenes in two films were similar, the staggering differences in the storyline and motivation behind the films (“Palinoia” about a “Caucasian male suffering in the wake of a failed relationship,” and “Lemonade” about “an African-American woman going through stages of grief following infidelity”) overcame the “superficial similarities” cited in the complaint.