Appropriation Artist Richard Prince Sued

Posted on 1/13/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Richard Prince, the “appropriation” artist whose work is exhibited at the level of the Guggenheim and sets records at contemporary art auctions, will have to defend himself in a copyright-infringement lawsuit brought by photographer Patrick Cariou. He told citifile that Prince’s recent works use a number of Cariou’s photographs.

According to Cariou, the images used by Prince as part of a recent body of work first appeared in Cariou’s book Yes Rasta in 2000 and were used by Prince without permission or compensation. Cariou’s infringement complaint also includes Lawrence Gagosian, the Gagosian Gallery and Rizzolli International Publications, who respectively exhibited and published a book about Prince’s latest work.

Prince, who previously settled at least one similar lawsuit out of court, makes what contemporary critics and connoisseurs have recognized as art by photographing, enlarging and exhibiting images from print ads. His adaptation of the Marlboro Man—a picture taken by commercial photographer Jim Krantz and owned by Philip Morris—is among the best known for both the image’s aesthetic and the $1.2 million price it fetched at a 2005 auction.

The caption for the image at left on reads: "Untitled (cowboy) 1999, Ektacolor photograph, 61 x 32-1/2 inches." The controversial artist has never denied the origins of his works. He explains the cowboy series by stating: “By cropping and taking a photograph from an already existing picture, you’re in a sense fragmenting the real and attempting to add on, or ‘annex’ it to something more real. … The idea is to promote a ‘where the fuck did you get those’ kind of take. … I’m assuming it would require a spectator with a willingness to be a sucker. And if not a sucker, at least someone who wanted some fun and who spent a lot of times in the movies, and didn’t pay any attention to the credits.”

While Prince’s artist statements have a tendency to elicit strong reactions among the creators of his “subjects,” photo editor Rob Haggart thinks Cariou will have a hard time in court. Haggart thinks that Prince’s conduct may be in line with the fourth fair-use factor provision: it does not “harm either the present or potential market for the copyrighted work.”

Photo attorney Carolyn Wright agrees: “Prince’s art may qualify as transformative work.”

Copyright © 2009 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


  • Don Farrall Posted Jan 14, 2009
    I know Jim Krantz, and he has always been considered a talented commercial photographer, the kind who is hired for his artistic abilities. This claim of "Fair Use" is BS!

    If there really isn't any legal recourse then the photographers who's work has been stolen in this way should produce their own "big prints" of the work and sell them as competitive art. They certainly have the right to. Doing so might generate some money for the true authors of the works, and at the same time it might devalue the "Prince" originals, which of course aren't originals at all. These guys should show up at the Christies auctions with their own copies in hand.

    Don Farrall

  • Rio Helmi Posted Jan 14, 2009
    Let's see: I work for years building up skills and a portfolio, have meetings with agency people, then I get the assignment, bust my a.. getting everything organized, doing the creative (at the very least the p.a. I pay does), my imaging people burn the midnight oil meeting the deadline, my admin people do their thing making sure my assistants get paid ( and all other location etc fees too), and hopefully I have enough left over to pay rent/mortgage, buy equipment, put my kids through school etc.

    Then Prince saunters up, snaps a picture of the final result of all that back breaking work (long before it becomes public domain), prints it out (oh yeah. shoot he might spend 2 hours on the computer "fixing it" (more or less resizing it) - and makes $1.2 million?

    (Oh yeah of course, I forgot, he has to pay the galleries say 40%. Poor guy, he only takes home 720K. Ah well I guess it didn't take too much of his time...)

    He is not only ripping off the photog, he is also ripping off everyone else involved in the initial process. There's a biological term for this phenomena: Parasite.


  • Rio Helmi Posted Jan 14, 2009
    oops, meant the p.a. does the organisation !

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