A Vancouver-based makeup artist is gearing up to sue multi-platinum American rapper Lil’ Kim for copyright infringement over a “pop art zombie” image.
Samantha Ravndahl, 20, posted a makeup tutorial to social media sites in early October, 2013, demonstrating step-by-step how to create a ghoulish Halloween look.
Within a couple of weeks, one of her Instagram followers told Ms. Ravndahl the image had been posted to the Instagram account of the New York rapper, whose real name is Kimberly Denise Jones.
“I went there and saw that she had posted it with her copyright over it,” Ms. Ravndahl said.
“She didn’t credit me or anything. I thought it was kind of weird and looked into it more. I found all these other places she had been using this image as promotional album art for her song.”
Ms. Ravndahl says the image was used as cover art for the single Dead Gal Walking.
It was posted to social media accounts associated with the rapper, including Twitter, Facebook and TwitMusic, in addition to Instagram.
Music blogs that reported on the single re-posted the image, which was photographed by Ms. Ravndahl and shows her likeness and makeup artistry.
The Vancouverite said she and her social media followers began posting about the issue online, and a member of Lil’ Kim’s team contacted her.
“She was like, ‘Hey, Lil’ Kim’s sorry. She’s totally fine giving you a shout out,’” Ms. Ravndahl said. “I said, ‘No, I make a living off selling my images. I can’t just give this away.’”
That call was followed by one from the rapper’s manager, Ms. Ravndahl said, who told her the exposure would be great for the young artist. Again, she said, she declined.
“I don’t really want to be associated with Lil’ Kim for the rest of my life,” Ravndahl said.
In mid-November, she said, lawyer Scott Burroughs of Los Angeles-based firm Doniger/Burroughs offered to take Ms. Ravndahl’s case on a contingency fee basis.
The firm sent a cease and desist letter on Nov. 20.
“Our investigation has revealed that, among other things, you have used our client’s artwork as an album cover, for online stories, in marketing and advertising, on your web site and across various social media platforms,” the letter stated.
“Your conduct amounts to copyright infringement, misappropriation of likeness, misattribution and violation of state and federal law.
“The addition of your copyright language to the image is especially problematic.”
The firm has not yet received a reply to the letter, which also requests a statement itemizing every instance in which the image was used and documents reflecting revenues generated during that period.
Ms. Ravndahl is seeking damages that could reach as much as $150,000, the letter says. Mr. Burroughs is expected to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles within the next couple of weeks.
Cynthia Rowden, a lawyer with Bereskin & Parr LLP who specializes in trademark and copyright law, could not discuss the specific case but said “artwork, including a photograph, has copyright attached to it and if someone copies that without permission, arguably there is copyright infringement.
“It’s one thing to see something on the Internet and send it to a friend, saying, ‘Isn’t this funny?’
“It’s another thing to make a commercial use of that. Once somebody starts to make a commercial use of something they found on the Internet, then it’s much more likely to attract attention.”
The image has been removed from most sites associated with Lil’ Kim.
The rapper’s media contact did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“If there were something going on, my team would know better than I would,” Lil’ Kim told XXL magazine in November.
“You have to get that from my team because I really don’t know what’s going on.”
The allegations have not been tested in court.
Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ms. Ravndahl posted her tutorial in 2012. It was in fact October, 2013. This version has been updated.