Richard Prince Finally Sued (Again) For Copyright Infringement Over His 'Instagram' Art
from the and-it-involves-more-rastas dept
Remember Richard Prince? He’s the well-known “appropriation artist” who was involved a few years ago in a key fair use case concerning his artwork. That case involved him taking photographs taken by another photographer, Patrick Cariou, of a bunch of Jamaican Rastafarians, and adding some minor modifications, blowing the images up and selling them as “art.” Whether or not you appreciate Prince’s art, the lawsuit raised some serious questions about whether or not it’s appropriate for judges to determine what is art and what is not. A district court determined that the works were infringing, but, thankfully, the appeals court overturned most of that ruling, declaring that the majority of Prince’s artowrk was fair use. Unfortunately, before the case could go any further, the case settled, so there was some murkiness over the precedent.
The next we heard of Richard Prince — who, it should be admitted, sounds like a real jerk — he had set up an exhibit where he had printed out people’s Instagram photos along with some fake “comment” text added by Prince himself, and was charging obscene amounts of money for them (~$100,000). As we noted, it was a jerk move to do, but it didn’t actually take anything away from the original works, and a number of people whose photos were used (even as they were upset about it) responded in a non-legal fashion — by using Prince’s exhibit to promote themselves. And in the case of the well-known Suicide Girls site (many of Prince’s Instagram appropriations had been from Suicide Girls), they offered their own prints with their own comments… for $90.
But, of course, eventually a lawsuit had to come, and now it’s here. And, would you believe it — it (once again) involves photographs of Rastafarians. You can read the complaint here. It’s been filed by photographer Donald Graham that apparently someone else (not a party to the lawsuit) had posted an unauthorized copy to Instagram (under the username “rastajay92”), when Prince then did his screenshot -> add nonsensical text -> presto it’s fine art trick thing, leading to this:
On October 25, 2014, Mr. Prince responded to a post by Mr. Graham?s wife on the social media website Twitter (?Twitter?), in which she stated that Mr. Prince ?appropriated? Mr. Graham?s photograph into the Exhibition, with a reply post from his Twitter account: ?You can have your photo back. I don?t want it. You can have all the credit in the world.?
Prince, of course, has made it clear in the past many times that he doesn’t care in the slightest about copyright issues. He’s not interested in copyright or fair use or any of the academic aspects of this debate. He just wants to make his stuff. And he has no problem being surly and obnoxious about it as well.
Once again, as we’ve noted in the past, even if you don’t appreciate Prince’s “art,” it’s fairly obvious that some people do, because people do keep buying up his works, even at those crazy prices. And thus, whether or not you or I or a judge feels it’s art, it’s clearly art to some people. And that’s where it gets troubling that a court now gets to weigh in and determine whether or not this kind of art can be allowed or if it needs to be banned and destroyed. Prince is hardly a shining prince for fair use, but these lawsuits can have a huge impact on how fair use works.
As for Graham, I can totally understand why he feels upset, insulted or even ripped off. But as we saw when this exhibit first came out, it seems like there were a number of much better (and less expensive) ways of dealing with this than filing a copyright lawsuit. Graham could have easily used the situation to get extra attention for his own work. Instead, he’s choosing to rip apart someone else’s work.