Spot the difference: Hollywood director gets a slap in the face for plagiarising a top British photographer

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The Independent Online
The director of swing group En Vogue's latest video has had to apologise and offer compensation to one of British fashion's hottest photographers for stealing the idea for the video from a shoot in The Face magazine.

Matthew Rolston, one of Hollywood's most established celebrity photographers, has admitted "borrowing too heavily" from a series of gothic fashion photographs by Sean Ellis.

The plagiarised images were from a shoot entitled "Clinic" that appeared in style bible The Face earlier this year and were then used in En Vogue's video for its single "Whatever". "There is a difference between reference and rip-off," said Mr Ellis, 26, yesterday. "And this is a clear case of a rip off."

After being threatened with court action for breach of copyright, Mr Rolston has agreed to settle out of court and pay Mr Ellis the equivalent of a day's shooting fee in exchange for using the images. Photographers at Mr Ellis' level can earn pounds 20,000 a day.

En Vogue's record company, Elektra, told The Face it was unhappy about the dispute and advised Mr Rolston to talk to Mr Ellis' lawyers. Elektra has now been advised not to talk about the case. And Mr Rolston's lawyers are trying to make the payment to Mr Ellis dependent on him keeping quiet about the plagiarism.

But the photographer was forthright in defending his copyright. "A lot of people get ripped off," he said. "Young talent get their ideas stolen by established talent who are too busy to come up with their own ideas. I thought I was in a position now to do something about it. I don't think Matthew Rolston realised how established I was."

Sean Ellis has been credited with creating a "gothic" style of photography that has moved the fashion world on from its obsession with the so-called "heroin chic" of pale emaciated models. Instead, Mr Ellis uses rich textures with dark images to create a "filmic" style.

"Many directors are influenced by fashion photographers," he added. "You sometimes see a clever reference to your work that takes the idea and pushes it on further and improves it. It is quite different to just copy directly."

Matthew Rolston made his name as a photographer in Hollywood and became known as one of an elite of "superphotographers" who can command high fees and who are in demand by the stars.

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