Beyonce Accused of Plagiarism

In the world of dance, your choreography is your words. I guess each move can’t be considered your own, but, like a sentence, the sequence you arrange them in is your design. Beyonce was recently accused of plagiarism by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. The music video with the plagiarized dance moves is to the song “Countdown” and does very obviously copy the choreography. I first read about this in the New York Times, which said Beyonce borrowed from two of Keersmaeker’s pieces, and borrowed not just dance moves but also some costumes, the set and even some specific shots. The article said Keersmaeker is not mad, but feels it’s rude, especially because they copied so explicitly.

But the entire video is a combination of copied art. According to the article, Beyonce’s response was that Keersmaeker’s work was clearly a reference. “It was one of the inspirations used to bring the feel and look of the song to life,” she said in the article. Furthermore, Beyonce said her music video for “Countdown” was “also paying tribute to the film, ‘Funny Face’ with the legendary Audrey Hepburn,” and “My biggest inspirations were the ’60s, the ’70s, Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, Twiggy and Diana Ross.” And when you watch the entire video, those other inspirations are clearly evident. It’s not mentioned in the article, but with so many other popular references, it’s obvious that the lyrics “killing me softly,” originally used by The Fugees, are used in the song to make an impact.

This article by The Telegraph said the dance company is “currently looking into launching legal proceedings against Beyonce.” The article also includes another video with more side by side comparisons of the videos, and also includes an interview with the original video’s filmmaker, Thierry De Mey, who according to the article said that, “If tomorrow I were to look for the music, the videos by Beyonce or any other pop or rock stars and use them in my movies without asking for their authorization, I think Exocet missiles would fall over the Charleroi dance festival and myself,” which I thought was funny and interesting. I also think it’s interesting how, without our technology and without globalization, some aspect of this event wouldn’t have happened. Either Beyonce never even would have seen foreign dance for inspiration, or her video never would have reached as far as Europe. Just interesting.

The situation is made a little more clear by this article from The Guardian, “Beyoncé v De Keersmaeker: can you copyright a dance move?” which said the codirector of Beyonce’s video, Adria Petty, brought Beyonce a lot of European dance references and she may have been “under the impression that she was referencing the work of the late Pina Bausch, rather than that of the Belgian (and very much alive) De Keersmaeker.” 

So really, how offensive is it to have pieces and elements of your artwork copied to create a new piece? Isn’t copying someone the biggest compliment you can give them?


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