Suicide Girls Reappropriate Art That Appropriation Artist Richard Prince Appropriated — At A 99.9% Discount

from the that's-how-it's-done dept

Yesterday, we wrote about appropriation artist Richard Prince and his slightly bizarre exhibit of other people’s Instagram photos, with just the addition of a nonsensical Richard Prince comment — and then selling them for $90,000 a pop. As we noted, Prince comes off like a complete jackass in almost every way here, but he doesn’t care. In fact, his Twitter feed is like an art exhibit of not giving a single fuck — retweeting or mocking many of the angry tweets coming his way, and joking about the $90,000 fees for the photos (saying that he thought it was twice that price).

In that post, we noted that one of those whose photos was used tried to “reappropriate” things by releasing a press release claiming that his artwork was being displayed in an exhibit “organized by” Prince. Some folks noticed that a bunch of the images Prince used were actually from the well-known Suicide Girls instagram feed. And now it appears that the Suicide Girls have hit back with their own bit of reappropriation as well — selling versions of basically the same prints as Prince’s for… $90, rather than $90,000. And, yes, the Suicide Girls reappropriation includes Richard Prince’s nonsensical comments… but they also added one of their own:

And, obviously, they don’t have permission from Prince, but as they note:

Do we have Mr. Prince?s permission to sell these prints? We have the same permission from him that he had from us. 😉

Also, any profits are being donated to EFF, so that obviously rocks as well.

Again, there are interesting questions about fair use and transformative work here — even if it’s pretty widely agreed that Prince is being a total jackass about the whole thing. But, what’s much more interesting than the copyright question is how people are responding to this. There’s a social cost involved here. Prince doesn’t care, because that social cost has no impact on his ability to sell ridiculous $90,000 prints to people who care more about “names” than art. But others are building off of the controversy and doing unique things to have an impact without having to resort to the “obvious path” of copyright law. This is a point that often gets lost in these discussions. Even if a copyright claim is a possible path, that doesn’t mean it’s the best path. It appears that many have recognized that there are better ways to deal with this than using the sledge hammer approach that copyright law provides.

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Comments on “Suicide Girls Reappropriate Art That Appropriation Artist Richard Prince Appropriated — At A 99.9% Discount”

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51 Comments
Doodmonkey says:

tranformative

They’re shooting themselves. His work was transformative. We can debate the quality of his work in whatever frame you want (copyright, moral, artistic,etc) But I do believe there is enough of the transformative argument not only with the work itself, but with the debate itself. It has value to critique and debate it from a lot of stand points. What the Suicide girls are doing is petty and not transformative at all. However you debate the merits of the work itself the SGs fall short of the fair use/transformative test and are violating his copyright.

I support fair use / transformative works. As much the transformation can sucks sometimes, it’s not for the non creator to decide.

Zem (profile) says:

Re: tranformative

you don’t get it. Suicide girls already “own” the original image. They “own” their added byline. The only thing they are appropriating is the added text by Prince.

The Prince text is being transformed by the addition of the added byline. Transforming someone else’s work does not give you the right to lock it up, preventing them from using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not “transformative”.
If transformative works really have such a low bar Napster would still exist (converting a CD to MP3 would create a transformative work based on the CD), There would be no such thing as movie (or tv) piracy (converting the format to a different codec would be transformative), and one could sell their own version of any novel they please simply by adding some foot-notes.

Right I’m off to republish Harry Potter with some minor changes and footnotes and get rich… I’m sure JK Rowling will be cool with my transformative work.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For what feels like the ten-millionth time: it’s about the context of the art, it’s “character, purpose and meaning”, not the physical act of format-shifting or the material changes to the content.

If people are just going to keep ignoring that and spouting this nonsense about how it’s the same as ripping a CD, then I don’t know what else to say…

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

This is an odd case. I’m all for fair use, but I’m also aware of history, and if there’s anything that absolutely should not be considered Fair Use, it’s what Mr. Prince is doing, because this is literally the problem that copyright was first created to solve: publishers appropriating a creative work in its entirety and selling it without compensating the author.

We already have horrendous laws like the DMCA enshrine in law a publisher’s right to abuse people rather than curtailing it. If we now say that this is fair use, it would seem that Copyright’s journey to the Dark Side is now complete.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But Prince isn’t a “publisher”, really. He’s not mass-producing copies of these works and dominating the market for them. He’s transformed them into single pieces that are being sold in an entirely different market (high art) than the one the originals could be considered to be a part of. Moreover, the pieces were already published – openly, freely, widely and publicly – on Instagram.

I doubt there’s a single piece of business that Prince blocked the photographers from getting. I doubt one of the people who paid $90k for these works would have bought the photo from the originator, at either the same price or a different one. If there’s any measurable effect on the market for the photographers’ work here, it’s almost certainly growth. Prince clearly contributed more to the market value of these works than the photographers – if you put a blank canvas signed by Prince, and one of these photo-prints not created by him, on sale next to each other at an art gallery… well, I know which one would sell for more.

So is that really what copyright was created to solve?

Anon says:

Re: Re: Yes

Copyright was created to solve a simple problem – as pulishing became a big business, became mechanized, and presses could crank out thousands or more copies per day, instead of hand-assembled book bindings – suddenly copying people’s works became quite lucrative. We see the same thing at play today, where making purses and slapping a Prada or Gucchi label on it (or “Rolex” on a watch) makes for massive profits for those who are creative enough to do so.

Charles Dickens, for example, went bankrupt chasing people who copied his works. Some even used the “transformative” excuse, reprinting “Christmas Carol” and changing some of the scenes and claiming they’d “improved” it so copyright didn’t apply.

By this logic, yes, both Prince and SG are transformative; but also Perez Hilton’s paintshop-drawn penises on celebrity photos are far more transformative (hence artistic?) than Prince. (In fact, PH uses the same argument – he changed the photos, therefore he can freely use them without paying the photographers any royalties.)

To me, the essence of a work is what it is. A transformation significantly alters it;

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes

Also I think you have that Dickens story wrong. He sued over the Christmas Carol thing and won, then the publisher declared bankruptcy and Dickens ended up stuck with the legal bills.

He never went bankrupt. He made a good living his entire life, often through speaking & reading tours more than publication. He died wealthy, leaving substantial sums to his children and ex-wife, and a meaningful bonus to all his servants (which, yes, he had). So let’s not go shedding tears and painting a picture of him as one of his own starving urchins and pretending a lack of strong copyright is at fault.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t really think it’s about the payment, it’s just that in this particular case, the payment serves as a good demonstration of how wildly Prince changed the context of this art. The argument in this instance might be harder to make if no galleries were taking the pieces and no rich folk were buying them, but not impossible.

Plus, remember, I absolutely believe the opposite should hold true (even if the sad fact is that it often doesn’t). If you go to a gallery where a painting is on sale for $90k and snap a photo of it to share to Instagram, in my mind that is clearly transformative work as well: your shared instagram pic has an entirely different purpose, character and meaning than the five-figure painting.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“this is literally the problem that copyright was first created to solve: publishers appropriating a creative work in its entirety and selling it without compensating the author.”

This is a shallow justification of copyright. I fail to see the implied mandate that someone making money by copying the works of others should compensate the artist they are copying. This just shows that artists can’t compete with one of the natural properties of information: it’s easy to copy. It also ignores that culture builds on culture. You can’t create new “original” works without the existence of prior works. If the goal is to enable artists to be compensated for their labor, then copyright is completely the wrong way to go about it. Adopting a mindset that creative works should be treated like exclusive property is contrary to reality when exclusivity is not natural to the object in question. If the goal is to maintain a monopoly on copying and distribution, you’ve failed as soon as you publish your works.

The proper solution is a mindset that leads to adapting to the reality of what the artist truly has control over. The truth is, you only have control over your own will. So it follows that artist and audience would be better off forming an agreement prior to the act of labor which produces the creative works. It also shifts your focus onto serving the people that are willing to pay you and accepting that copying is just part of marketing.

Copyright is the model of doing the work today and hoping that people will agree to pay you tomorrow. Don’t do that; get your just compensation settled before you do any work. Everything else is dealing with plagiarism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

literally the problem that copyright was first created to solve: publishers appropriating a creative work in its entirety and selling it without compensating the author.

For the first 300 years of printing, authors did not have copyright. Various censorship and licensing schemes granted a printer the right to produce copies of a work, and also prevent direct competition in production of a title. The second aspect is what the printers missed when the licensing schemes were abolished. That is why the printers lobbied for copyright, and eventually got their way in part, they did not like the limited term, when they spun copyright as an authors right. Note however authors still created manuscripts, and sold them to printers during the first 300 years of copyright.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Can I sell prints of the Mona Lisa this way? What about copies of Martin Luther King’s dream speech?

IANAL, but short answer, yes and yes.

The Mona Lisa painting is free of Copyright entanglements, and you can always go to where it is hanging and take a picture of it (provided the museum doesn’t have any restrictions on photography or you are able to do so without getting caught if it does,) and there are public domain and royalty free pictures of the Mona Lisa already available online.

Martin Luther King’s dream speech, on the other hand, may get you into trouble after you copy it, slap a few lines on it, and distribute it, but there is nothing preventing you from doing it. The King estate may sue you for it, but they may not, or you may have a fair use claim which will cause the courts to side with you. The simple fact is that you can be sued at any time for any reason, and copyright is one of those times where the lawyers want to keep it purposefully vague. Sadly, you won’t know until you are successful and defending your use.

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