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News & Insight

“Appropriation Artist” Sued Again Over Instagram Photo Theft

By Holly Roa on November 22nd 2016

What would you do if someone took a screenshot of your photograph and sold it for $100,000 and not a penny of it was even offered to you? Appropriating and selling other people’s artwork as his own has been Richard Prince’s gig in one way or another since 1975. His most recent iteration of this tactic utilizes Instagram. In 2014 Prince opened an art installation in New York’s Gagosian Gallery called “New Portraits” which consisted of screenshots of other people’s Instagram photos, after he had commented on them under the handle “richardprince1234,” printed on canvas. These “artworks” sold for $100,000 Frieze New York art fair, which, as insidious as it sounds is somehow legal due to complexities in copyright law.

There was much commotion about the installation, particularly about the sales, and the aftermath has included several lawsuits. Now yet another photographer has stepped forward to fight their work being stolen and sold with no repercussion under “fair use.” The suit, which is the fifth to result from “New Portraits,” was filed by editorial and commercial photographer Eric McNatt in regard to the use of his 2014 portrait of Sonic Youth singer, Kim Gordon, photographed on assignment for Paper magazine.eric-mcnatt-kim-gordon Prince posted Natt’s photograph on his own, currently disabled account, “richardprince4” with no changes to the image, printed it, and displayed it in a gallery in Tokyo as well as offered it for sale online. eric-mcnatt-kim-gordon-richard-princeAdding to McNatt’s grievances, the image is also being featured in a book Prince is releasing featuring his “New Portraits.”

Prince’s attorney has released this statement:

The complaint fundamentally misunderstands the case law on fair use and how the exemption from the monopoly of rights granted under the copyright statute applies. Mr. Prince has enjoyed a long friendship with Ms. Gordon and admires her as an artist; this work at issue in the case makes fair use of a photograph of Ms. Gordon allegedly taken in the first instance with her permission by a photographer for publication in (Paper Magazine).

[REWIND:] RICHARD PRINCE COULD BE (STEALING) AND SELLING YOUR INSTAGRAM PHOTO FOR $100K

Kim Gordon made an instagram post of herself holding one of Prince’s prints and thanking him. McNatt’s assistant on the shoot, Paul Teeling, made a lengthy comment on Kim’s post divulging that none of the people responsible for making the image received pay, while Prince has made hundreds of thousands of dollars appropriating this image and others.eric-mcnatt-kim-gordon-richard-prince

What’s your take? Inexcusable plagiarism, justifiable art, or something in between? In that vein you may want to check out what Kylie Jenner’s camp is doing to one of our own team members here:

Kylie Jenner’s Imagery Is As Original As An Echo | Copies Other Artists’ Work, Again?

 

About

Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rob Earnshaw

    Two words: Money Laundering

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  2. James Connors

    I would be honored for Richard to use one of my photos in this way. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that half of my family are lawyers, no siree.

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  3. Black Z Eddie

    That POS Richard Prince needs to lose.

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  4. norman tesch

    because it is a photo of a person dosent he still need model release

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  5. Frank Villafane

    As a musician, “fair use” is pretty well understood. For instance: my quartet frequently performs copyrighted material (i.e. “covers”), but we ALWAYS credit the composers (assuming they hold the copyright). So, for instance, during our performance we might play a tune “Blue Bossa”, from Kenny Dorham. We credit the composer (Kenny Dorham) and perform the piece in our own style. Fair use, pure and simple.

    Now, were we to RECORD that same piece and sell the recording, we would legally be bound to pay a royalty to the copyright holder (usually ASCAP, BMI, the composer, etc. ) for each copy sold, AND credit the composer/copyright holder (on the media). This is fair business practice whether we do a straight copy of the tune, or repurpose it completely with our own unique arrangement.

    Posting someone else’s image on Instagram, then, would constitute fair use (provided the photographer is credited). SELLING that same image (whether on Instagram, in a gallery, or however) without duly compensating the photographer constitutes copyright infringement, pure and simple.

    I sincerely hope Mr. McNatt puts Mr. Prince and his ilk out of business.

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    • Erpillar Bendy

      I agree 100%. Musicians understand this because this is a settled issue in the music world. The powerful music industry has assured that the law is on their side and has assured that royalties get paid and thievery gets punished. One would think that copyright law protects visual artists with the same vigor that it protects musical artists, but thus far some wealthy gallery owners have gotten away with screwing photographers out of their royalties.

      Eventually the courts will get this right. For example, when Shepard Fairey stole a photo from the Associate Press (a corporation), he got clobbered in court and had to pay. Hopefully Richard Price will face justice in the same way and be compelled to pay the creators of these works.

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  6. Erpillar Bendy

    Inexcusable plagiarism. Eventually a judge will make this plagiarist pay for the unauthorized use of other people’s work. This isn’t even close to “fair use”.

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  7. Meng Tian

    Just proves again, how primitive people in the art world are. Just a have of money, but nothing interesting to give.

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  8. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Did he ever do the same with a photo from, say, National Geographic, or does he always steal photos from easy-to-bully simple photographers?

    I wonder if he would ever have the courage to steal from Nat Geo or any other big entities.

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    • Erpillar Bendy

      Richard Prince mainly steals from easy-to-bully individual photographers. So far he has gotten away with it, except for cases he settles out of court to avoid a bad precedent. By contrast, Shepard Fairey made the mistake of stealing a photo (Obama) from the Associated Press and got walloped by the Court. That’s the difference between stealing from a corporation and stealing from an individual. Corporations like the Associated Press have rights … and well-paid legal teams. The same for music corporations who can afford to enforce their rights.

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  9. Kim Farrelly

    Fair use includes selling it for a very large sum of money? Must remember that.

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