Industry News

Photographer Jingna Zhang Loses Plagiarism Case Against Artist

December 9, 2022

By Jacqueline Tobin


Singaporean photographer Jingna Zhang, who claimed that artist Jeff Dieschburg “ripped off her work”, has just lost her plagiarism case against him in what’s another shocking upset for photographers and other creatives in general. On December 7, a Luxembourg district court ruled that Dieschburg did not infringe on Zhang’s copyrighted work due to “insufficient originality in the photo.”

After the ruling, Zhang stated that she is devastated by the copyright ruling, which stated that her work lacks originality and will not receive copyright protection in Luxembourg. “The basis of the judge’s ruling was that the model’s pose in my photo is not unique. But how can a photo’s copyright be based on a pose alone? If having a unique pose is the premise for copyright protection of an image, then nearly all portrait works in the world will not have copyright protection.

[Read: Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Landmark Fair Use Case, Warhol v. Goldsmith]

The original portrait by Zhang that Dieschburg was accused of infringing upon (when he painted a very similar portrait and reportedly admitted to using as reference for his own art), was from a cover shoot Zhang did for Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam in 2017. Things took a public, and litigious, turn when Zhang noticed that Dieschburg’s image, which she saw exhibited at Strassen Contemporary Biennial last May, had a very obvious resemblance to her original portrait.

In an initial Instagram post by Zhang back in June (after she discovered Dieschburg’s painting) she wrote (excerpted below):

“Am I crazy or is this insane. This guy rips off my work, gets exhibited at strassen_stroossen Culture Center, wins a prize of €1,500, in an event supported by the government of Luxembourg and Ministry of Culture, and had it presented to Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg Princess Stéphanie @courgrandducale.

“When confronted by others about copyright infringement, he sends me an email statement, tells me that as a figurative painter it’s obvious that he needs reference materials. That he was inspired by someone else who appropriated my photos first (!!), and even though he was inspired by some of my artistic choices, he had “created an image in an artisanal way”, with different colors, flipped the photo, and added earrings and a sword. ???”
Read the full post here.

[Read: 6 Copyright Infringement Cases Photographers Should Know About]

Apparently, the two were unable to reach an agreement and Zhang took Dieschburg to court. Here’s more of what she posted in reaction to this week’s ruling:

The fact that my work has been copied by others countless times is a testament to its originality and style—including in this particular case, where it’s been exploited by the violator for a painting that won an award, exhibited, and was offered for sale for €6,500. This ruling effectively allows anyone in Luxembourg to freely exploit, sell, license, and use my work without permission or respect for my rights, despite recognizing me as the copyright holder of my work. This simply goes against the very principles of copyright law.”

Zhang has vowed to appeal the decision, stating that it’s not an injustice just for herself but “a worrying danger for the entire art and photography community.”