Whose Image is it Anyway? – Activity

This first activity touches on copyright law and the challenging area of fair use.

The case discussed in the activity is Patrick Cariou vs Richard Prince and Gagosian Gallery.

There have been some notable art copyright cases in recent decades. One of the most significant is French photographer Patrick Cariou’s claim, suing Richard Prince and his gallery, Gagosian, for copyright infringement. Read more about the case (Artinamericamagazine.com, 2017) here , or an even more detailed report (Anon, 2017) here .

I read both articles before drafting my thoughts on the case. Though this is not the only example where Richard Prince has be involved in claims of copyright infringement.

Reading through the details of the case I feel the appeal decision was fair and reasonable in terms of the letter of the law (as currently written) and Prince’s appropriation of the images to create new work. As pointed out by others this is not the only case where Prince has got into hot water over copyright abuse. In this particular case the fact that 5 images needed further consideration shows how close this body of work was to being the wrong side of the law on fair use of other’s work.

There are other examples of Prince’s work challenging copyright law such as Marlboro Man cited by Philip and the Instagram image appropriation case (The Verge, 2017) where Prince experienced a case of his own medicine following the decision of one. The create posters from their Instagram image and sell them at a fraction of the price to undermine the value of Prince’s work. Though Prince’s response was interesting as he did not appear to be phased by the outcome. I think he appreciated the extra publicity.

Another example of copyright infringement is Molotov Man and an image taken by Susan Meiseles that is discussed in Joywar.(En.m.wikipedia.org, 2017) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov_Man

Though Prince May stay the right side of the law from a compliance perspective I view that he has crossed the boundary from its intent and spirit. This then becomes a question of ethics, as Prince the images where taken from a published book he knew the name of the photographer and therefore turned the body of work into a collaboration where both artists could have gained benefit based on respective contribution and respective market profile.

I am fine with image appropriation but it is important to comply with the law and consider your own ethical position. Is the work more important that having an ethically defensible position.

A final thought it is almost as though Prince likes to covert controversy as a way of promoting his work after all it is free publicity that would have cost a significant amount to generate column inches in the press. Now we are all discussing the merits of the case and examining his work.

Maybe we all secretly associate with rebels (though not many will admit it.)

I continued to do further research later in the week and found an article which discussed the fact the Prince settled his case with Patrick Cariou  out of court following the appeal hearing. (Walker et al., 2017) https://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2014/03/richard-prince-settles-photographer-patrick-cariou.html  This additional piece of information and the more recent case of appropriating images from Instagram makes me thing Prince has established a pattern of behaviour when appropriating work from others and risk of a court case is almost desirable as it helps drive the publicity machine and reinforces the art world view that Prince is a rebel who is pushing the boundaries without due care. Where as when I look at all of the cases as a collective I am convinced that it is part of a considered strategy used to enhance Prince’s profile and as a result the value of his work.


  •  Artinamericamagazine.com. (2017). Landmark Copyright Lawsuit Cariou v. Prince is Settled – News – Art in America. [online] Available at: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/landmark-copyright-lawsuit-cariou-v-prince-is-settled/ [Accessed 7 Oct. 2017].
  • https://cyber.harvard.edu/people/tfisher/cx/2013_Cariou.pdf [Accessed 7 Oct. 2017].

    En.m.wikipedia.org. (2017). Molotov Man. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov_Man [Accessed 7 Oct. 2017].

    Walker, D., Risch, C., Hughes, H. and Walker, D. (2017). Richard Prince Settles with Photographer Patrick Cariou | PDNPulse. [online] PDNPulse. Available at: https://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2014/03/richard-prince-settles-photographer-patrick-cariou.html [Accessed 7 Oct. 2017].

    The Verge. (2017). The story of Richard Prince and his $100,000 Instagram art. [online] Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2015/5/30/8691257/richard-prince-instagram-photos-copyright-law-fair-use [Accessed 7 Oct. 2017].


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