Inspiration VS. Theft: How Do We Decide?

India McCarty

As Beyoncé once said, “You know you that b*tch when you cause all this conversation,” and these days, it seems like everyone is talking about Olivia Rodrigo. 


She’s smashed record after record, and proved that being a Disney star doesn’t relegate you to the kiddie crowd – her album even comes with a “Parental Advisory” sticker.


However, when you’re the current It Girl, the talk isn’t always all positive. 


Last week, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love accused Rodrigo of stealing her intellectual property: namely, the image of a prom queen with runny mascara. The image is featured on the cover of Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This.

Love took to Instagram to chastise Rodrigo, posting a picture from a recent photoshoot that shows Rodrigo dressed as a prom queen, complete with mascara tears. 


“Spot the Difference! #twinning,” Love wrote in the caption on Instagram, before getting a little more heated on Facebook. “It was rude of her, and (Rodrigo’s record label) geffen not to ask myself or (‘Live Through This’ cover photographer) Ellen von unwerth.”


She also commented that she’s waiting for Rodrigo to send her flowers and an apology note.

The similarity between the images is undeniable. Rodrigo and her creative team were obviously influenced by this album cover. However, is it fair to say that Love owns the idea of a prom queen in distress? 


A quick Google search of the phrase “crying prom queen” brings up images of Stephen King’s Carrie White, songs like “homecoming queen?” by Kelsea Ballerini and “prom dress” by mxmtoon, and tons of Getty stock images of prom queens in tears.

Intellectual property is defined as “a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.” So, did Courtney Love invent crying at prom? If so, why hasn’t she raised this complaint with any of the other artists who have been influenced by the Live Through This album cover? 


This isn’t to say that Rodrigo didn’t rip off Hole; she did. That’s kind of the point of these kinds of photoshoots. Major magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue are constantly presenting today’s celebrities as the stars of yesteryear – Margot Robbie as Marilyn Monroe, Taylor Swift as Joni Mitchell. Sometimes it’s a music video – see One Direction’s “Kiss You” video, where they do Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock.” Other times, it’s simply a photoshoot, like Zendaya doing Michael Jackson. 

This isn’t necessarily a right-or-wrong situation, but it raises an interesting set of questions: who truly owns a concept? How do you decide when something has become so ubiquitous that you can no longer claim it as your own? Is it even possible for today’s artists to credit every single person they’ve been inspired by? Tell us what you think in the comments!