Why Plagiarizing Iron Maiden is a Really Bad Idea

In February, rapper OsamaSon released his latest album, Flex Musix (FLXTRA). The album’s deluxe edition cover featured a stylized mummy biting into his chains while being zapped with lightning.

However, the mummy may have been a bit too familiar for some music fans.

The reason is that the mummy was a recolored version of Eddie, the mascot of the band Iron Maiden. Specifically, it was nearly identical to a drawing used to promote the 1984 Iron Maiden album Powerslave.

Upon closer examination, the two works are nearly identical. The only significant differences are that OsamaSon’s version is recolored, has a slightly different background, has a different mouth, and adds hair. Other details, such as the pattern in the wrappings, the chain and the lightning, are all identical.

In a now-expired Instagram Story, OsamaSon said that the band is now suing him, so the cover is “gone.”

However, as one might imagine, the artwork is far from gone and is featured on various pages, including the album’s Genius and All Music pages. It is also featured on various streaming music pages, including Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Still, the story is an excellent example of why it is important to check work for copyright and plagiarism issues before publishing it. Though OsamaSon himself is not likely the one who committed the plagiarism, it is still an embarrassment for him and his label, Atlantic Records.

Potential Liability

Note: We don’t have much information about the lawsuit, including where it was filed (or if it is even a full lawsuit). I searched PACER for the case but did not find it. As such, I won’t speak about what the lawsuit says but rather what it could say.

There’s not much denying the similarities between the two works. Despite the changes made for the OsamaSon version, it’s very clear that the artist based his work on the Iron Maiden image.

That said, it’s important to note that it’s unlikely OsamaSon himself did this. It is very rare for a recording artist to draw or create their own cover art, especially when backed by a major record label.

According to the album’s Genius page, the artwork is credited to stunmic, who also worked on two songs for the record. However, according to the notes on the artwork, stunmic designed the artwork for Future’s ninth mixtape, Monster, from which this art allegedly drew inspiration. As such, it’s unclear if stunmic designed the FLXTRA cover.

However, that doesn’t matter significantly. Ultimately, this is OsamaSon’s record with his name on it. He and his label are responsible for it. It’s his reputation that is on the line, and legally, he faces the worst consequences.

While it’s unlikely that OsamaSon committed the plagiarism, he and his label did not catch the similarities before publication.

As such, there are two main things that Iron Maiden can likely sue for.

The first and most obvious is copyright infringement. The cover is very clearly based on the Iron Maiden art, and the similarities are far too great to chalk up to coincidence. Though OsamaSon may attempt to argue fair use, that is a difficult argument as he’s using it for the same purpose that Iron Maiden used the original. Namely, to promote an album.

That raises another potential issue: Trademark infringement. This is more dubious as Iron Maiden would have to show that there was a likelihood of confusion. Though both are music albums, they are in different genres and separated by 40 years. Still, the band holds several trademarks related to Eddie, so it could be an argument they make.

All in all, this is a difficult case for OsamaSon and Atlantic Records to defend. The copying is extremely clear, and fair use arguments will be an uphill battle, especially after the recent Warhol ruling.

A Familiar Refrain

If this story sounds somewhat familiar, it’s likely because it shares similarities with what Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has been dealing with over the past year.

WotC is the company that produces Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Over the past year and a half, the company has faced repeated scandals, including several artists who were caught tracing their work after the art was printed.

Though none of the cases resulted in litigation (at least not yet), it’s a similar story of a major publisher allowing copied art to be distributed under their name. It highlights the need for publishers to vet the artwork they use and not blindly trust their creators.

The biggest difference here is who was copied. With the WotC cases, it was generally other artists. They often lack the resources to file a lawsuit, even if they want to.

Iron Maiden, on the other hand, is not only large enough to take legal action but has been very aggressive in recent years in protecting their intellectual property. Though details are unclear about what action the band has taken, it is unsurprising that they have done so.

Simply put, there are too many of these kinds of stories for publishers to ignore. There’s simply no excuse for not vetting artwork. There have been countless warnings, and will likely be countless more.

Bottom Line

In the end, there’s not much to defend in this case. It’s very clear that OsamaSon’s cover art is a derivative of the Iron Maiden piece. They’re used for the same purpose, and it’s unlikely that the newer work offers any commentary on the previous one.

All in all, it’s pretty clear-cut.

However, the case can serve as a warning for both artists and publishers. Being more involved in the process of creating art and having systems in place to vet it can help prevent these cases.

While artists may not like having their work checked, the risks of not doing so are too great. In this situation, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

While OsamaSon almost certainly didn’t commit the plagiarism, he will be the one associated with it. It’s unfair, but that’s the reality of it being his album.

All the more reason to get ahead of these issues before they become news stories.

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