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. 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. Adding 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).
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.
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: