Federal Judge Refuses to Toss Out Lawsuit Against Controversial Artist Richard Prince

Federal Judge Refuses to Toss Out Lawsuit Against Controversial Artist Richard Prince

Richard Prince, the well known and much maligned artist, famous for his works in which he reuses the photographs of others with minimal to no modification, has lost his attempt to have a copyright lawsuit against him thrown out of court. 

A federal judge in New York refused to dismiss the case against Richard Prince last week. It stems from his 2014 exhibition, "New Portraits," in which Prince made large prints of Instagram posts from other users, then added his own comments (made to look as if they were posted on the app). Photographer Donald Graham's “Rastafarian Smoking a Joint” appeared in the exhibition after being featured on another account. He filed a cease-and-desist order that went unheeded, causing him to escalate the matter to a lawsuit in 2015. 

While Prince and Larry Gagosian, the owner of the gallery that featured the exhibition, argued that the work is transformative, in issuing an opinion, United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein wrote: "The primary image in both works is the photograph itself. Prince has not materially altered the composition, presentation, scale, color palette, and media originally used by Graham.”

Prince seems entirely unrepentant, recently retweeting the following:

In another tweet that has since been deleted, he wrote (rather ironically, in my opinion): "Phony fraud photographers keep mooching me. Why? I changed the game." Depending on the outcome of the case, there could be new precedents for what constitutes fair use vs copyright infringement. 

[via New York Times]

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14 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

so because he can type he is an artist ? who knew………...

Eric Mazzone's picture

I'll say it again. This moron "Prince" better be careful who he steals from, because some won't start with the court system if it's proven to NOT protect their rights, they might seek other remedies up to and including beating the living shit out of him. And IF I'm on the jury hearing the case, I would definitely rule for their innocence.

Michael Higa's picture

Didn't someone do that with memorabilia?

Eric Mazzone's picture

Do what with memorabilia?

It's about time Prince goes down. Why can't a car thief claim he/she is merely a "performance artist" and get it excused otherwise. I've watched Prince's stuff for years. Plain and simple: he's a thief. Not an artist.

Julian Foglietti's picture

I wonder what would happen if I began reprinting "his" artwork and displaying it in galleries.

Douglas Turney's picture

Nothing. 1) He has already made his money off of the subject, 2) He doesn't give a crap, and 3) He will just use it as reinforcement of his belief that you can use anything you want. I believe people have already done this to him in the past.

Wes Jones's picture

Time that someone takes his "work" and smears feces on them and sells them as "transformative works"

Eric Mazzone's picture

While one could argue that doing so would be an improvement on his work, it wouldn't be fair to the feces to wipe it all over that junk.

Good call by judge. Prince chose to steal from someone else instead of taking his own images. Can only help any losses he incurs transforms him. This is not an issue of photos or alleged art - simply one of theft.

Sandro Loos's picture

What a horrible person. And what does it say about people and society? All the people that support him. From galleries/exibitions, managers/agents, probably magazines and other media that helped him getting famous, so called art experts and not to mention the people buying his "stuff" for a sh*t load of money. I just hope he gets what he deserves.

Anonymous's picture

Wondering what will become of copyrights for us unknowns, if/when our higher courts begin to change with the "landing" of the current administration? Hmmm....

David Evans's picture

I'm gonna start putting a subtitle with "wow, what great work" in every movie I watch from now on. Then I'm gonna sell the copies. Fair game right?

I know little about US copyright law but I pose a situation and wonder if someone could voice an opinion. So Mr Princes grabs one of my photographs and does his supposed magical tranformation which raises my humble work to the sate of "art". What would happen if I walked into the gallery it was displayed in and sprayed paint across his transformation of my own work? It might seem a trite proposal, but would a judge accept me transforming a transformed work of my own as art of vandalism? Any suggestions? Would the same principle then apply and the work be returmed to be my own property?