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Before Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé responds to accusations of plagiarism

Beyonce addresses the media during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show press conference in 2013. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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There were freakouts over Red Lobster and hot sauce, Blue Ivy and #BlackLivesMatter. In the hours after Beyoncé released her surprise music video “Formation” on Saturday, social media was awash in praise, once again, for Queen B.

Except from two upset documentary filmmakers, who claimed their footage was used in the video without permission.

“New Beyonce video used hella clips from the doc I produced and directed,” Los Angeles-based filmmaker Chris Black wrote on Twitter. “…but why?!?!”

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Black linked to a documentary called “That B.E.A.T.” which he created with director Abteen Bagheri. (NSFW warning, but you can watch it here.) Bagheri responded on Twitter, too: “I’m not mad. It’s the sad reality of the music business. Doesn’t affect my friends’ and my work, but not cool.”

The accusations were amplified by timing: “Formation” debuted on the eve of Super Bowl 50, where Beyoncé will perform her second halftime show, three years after her highly praised act in the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. The song, which she is likely to play Sunday, features New Orleans as its backdrop and inspiration. That’s where the clips from “That B.E.A.T.,” a documentary about NOLA’s dance culture, come in.

A representative for Beyoncé told Entertainment Weekly that those clips were purchased fairly.

“The documentary footage was used with permission and licensed from the owner of the footage,” the representative said. “They were given proper compensation. The footage was provided to us by the filmmaker’s production company. The filmmaker is listed in the credits for additional photography direction. We are thankful that they granted us permission.”

Those credits aren’t listed beneath YouTube’s version of “Formation,” which has already been viewed more than 6 million times. Nor are they easy to find on Tidal, the Jay Z-owned steaming service where “Formation” debuted. To find them, head to VideoStatic, where Bagheri’s name is listed next to”additional photography direction.”

In a surprise release a day before her Super Bowl performance, Beyoncé dropped the song "Formation" and its music video. Here's a guide to the video, the lyrics and things you might have missed. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

Black told the Fader, a music news site, that he received a request for permission in January. It came from director Lily Keber, who also has footage featured in the video. Black didn’t give Keber permission because he didn’t own the footage. He told Keber “That B.E.A.T.” was commissioned by Nokia in partnership with Sundance. That was the last he heard from Team Beyoncé, he said.

A spokesperson for Nokia said the company’s music services business was sold to Microsoft in 2014.

The Washington Post has reached out to Microsoft to ask whether it licensed the footage. If that’s the case, it appears that Microsoft, not the filmmakers, were paid for the clips.

“All we want is respect and credit,” Black said. “They don’t know what we sacrificed to make [the film]. They just came along and took it without crediting us.”

“Anyone who works in the industry knows that putting out a work is a miracle,”Bagheri said in an email to the Post. “There needs to be a unity amongst directors.  We need to preserve the sanctity of the craft and champion individual voices.  Our work isn’t just b-roll for someone else.  It just shouldn’t be considered, whether or not it’s legal.  It’s a bad precedent to set.”

Later in the day, “Formation” director Melina Matsoukas responded:

Bagheri tweeted to Matsoukas thanking her for the recognition, and Black said they aren’t planning to pursue legal action. They may not have received money or prominent attribution, but it’s hard to imagine how being associated with Beyoncé wouldn’t benefit their careers.

Still, maybe they could ask her team to send over some of the new “Formation” merchandise that is already on sale. Who wouldn’t want a hat that just says “hot sauce”?

This story has been updated. 

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