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French artist sues Lady Gaga for plagiarism

(Left) Screen grab from the video for Born This Way. (Right) A detail from Orlan’s work Woman with head.

Two years after the video for Born this Way was released, a well-known artist in France is suing Lady Gaga and Universal Music France on the grounds the pop star plagiarized her work in the video and demanding $31.5-million (U.S.) in compensation.

The artist, who goes by the single name Orlan, also wants the company to stop distributing the video and marketing the Born This Way album, according to Le Quotidien de l'Art, the French arts publication that broke the story. The video has been watched online more than 109-million times so far.

Orlan says Lady Gaga plagiarized two of her works in the video: a 1989 sculpture called Bump-Load that depicts a woman with bony growths on her face and body; and a 1996 work called Woman with head that features the decapitated head of a woman with square-cropped bangs set on a plexiglass table.

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Lady Gaga appears with similar bony growths on her face in the Born This Way video, and her similarly coiffed head is set on a see-through platform in the video alongside other heads, although the rest of her body is still attached below the table.

The lawsuit, filed in a Paris court, accuses Lady Gaga of using the "same plexiglass support, same square shape when it comes to the haircut, same facial implants, same decapitated heads."

The suit has touched off a debate online about artists' appropriation of other artists' work, and where the line between homage and plagiarism is drawn. Someone has also created a Tumblr blog called Gagaorlan in which similarities between Lady Gaga's work and that of Orlan and other artists are pointed out.

This isn't the first controversy over Lady Gaga's sources of inspiration. Many saw a similarity between the melody and theme of Born This Way and Madonna's 1989 hit Express Yourself. Madonna herself said she thought the Lady Gaga song was "familiar" and "reductive."

Lady Gaga insisted the only similarity between the two songs was the chord progression – an occurrence that is extremely common in pop music – and that her song's message was different from that of Madonna's.

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