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News & Insight

Richard Prince May Soon Get What’s Been Coming | Judge Says Copyright Case Goes Forward

By Brittany Smith on July 24th 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Andy Warhol’s body of work comes to mind with this, drawing inspiration from still life and icons alike and boldly transforming it into something completely fresh. His iconic pop art defined a generation. But what happens when that imitation results in a blatant carbon copy of another artist’s original work with added fringe? Is it even art?

That is the current debate of Richard Prince, whose  photographic career has been based largely upon plagiarizing the original works of others, such as famous Marlboro ads, and installing them as his own. When called into question, he maintained that he was attempting to communicate something that he couldn’t convey by creating his own images alone. And then he takes it one step farther.

“Phony fraud photographers keep mooching me. Why? I changed the game.”

-Richard Prince

It takes a lot of gumption to call out someone else as a fraud given the vast body of his work is merely enlargements of original art pieces. When his ethics have been called into question throughout the various lawsuits, Prince’s stance has been and remains to be with his feet anchored in the sand and his middle finger erected.

Sam Abell’s original ad on the left. Prince sold his copy for millions.


The most recent controversy surrounding Prince is the installation of his 2014 “New Faces” gallery in New York. The entire gallery was an exploit of the shared usage rights on social media. He took the original artist’s works, added his own Instagram styled comment, enlarged them for installation at the Gagosian Gallery and profited handsomely. One piece sold for $90,000, nearly double the average Brooklyn household income.

Everyone has been asking me what I thought about famous controversial artist Richard Prince taking a series of SuicideGirls Instagram posts and printing them out and selling them at a recent gallery show at the Gagosian Gallery of Beverly Hills for $90,000 a piece. My first thought was I don’t know anyone who can spend $90,000 on anything other than a house. Maybe I know a few people who can spend it on a car. As to the copyright issue? If I had a nickel for every time someone used our images without our permission in a commercial endeavor I’d be able to spend $90,000 on art. I was once really annoyed by Forever 21 selling shirts with our slightly altered images on them, but an Artist? Richard Prince is an artist and he found the images our girls and we publish on Instagram as representative of something worth commenting on, part of the zeitgeist, I guess? Thanks Richard! Do we have Mr. Prince’s permission to sell these prints? We have the same permission from him that he had from us. ;) I’m just bummed that his art is out of reach for people like me and the people portrayed in the art he is selling. So we at SuicideGirls are going to sell the exact same prints people payed $90,000 for $90 each. I hope you love them. Beautiful Art, 99.9% off the original price. ;) Urban art publisher Eyes On Walls ( is supporting the project by fulfilling the large canvas reproductions at cost. We will be donating the profits from sales to xoxo Missy Check out Missy's AMA happening right now!

A post shared by SuicideGirls ? (@suicidegirls) on

The exhibition resulted in a lawsuit filed by photographer Donald Graham and this time it is not being dismissed by a New York Federal judge.

“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.”

Instead, it will serve as a follow-up to another lawsuit that was filed by Patrick Cariou. The verdict could potentially alter the fair-usage agreement of photographs on Instagram as we know it. It could also set a precedent for the future of online copyright agreement.

This would be a huge win for photographer and artists alike. Social Media is the modern day word of mouth. We take a huge risk every time we click the Terms of Service Agreement.

Real Bongo Nyah man a real Congo Nyah ✊ repost @indigoochild

A post shared by Jay Kirton Kwame Ka Asante (@rastajay92) on


The story of Prince should also serve as a cautionary tale. If someone else’s voice needs to be borrowed to tell your story and it can’t be spun into something new, perhaps it wasn’t your story to tell.

Art is a point of view, an interpretation of the inspiration of an artist’s surroundings and innermost thoughts. There is a mindset that everything in the creative process has already been done, and it is hard pressed to not be inspired by the work of the previous Greats that have come before us. As artists, we have a moral responsibility to take aspects of that inspiration and make it into something all our own. From our perspectives.

Source: The New York Times

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Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Black Z Eddie

    This scumbag really needs to get what’s coming to him.

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  2. Andrei Mincov

    It’s a sad day when you realize that anti-IP crusaders have created an environment when blatant copyright infringement is something that needs discussion and, even worse, litigation. There used to be a time when if you stole someone else’s works and profited from them, it was a no-brainer that you should be punished for it. But various “IP should be free” and “copyleft” warriors keep pushing the boundaries of “fair use” and “fair dealing” and would have you believe that pretty much every use is fair as long as it generates a happy audience. This creates an absurd argument that intellectual property only protects that which no one wants to use, while the works that actually of some interest to the public should not be protected. It’s great to see some pushback towards common sense. It’s sad when such pushback is news and not what everyone takes for granted.

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    • Andrei Mincov

      Andrei Mincov

      Founder and CEO of Trademark Factory® /, the only firm in the world that offers trademarking services with a predictable, guaranteed result, for a predictable, guaranteed budget. We can help you register your trademarks with a free comprehensive trademark search, for a single all-inclusive flat fee, with a 100% money-back guarantee.

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    • Jonathan Levy

      Prince has been reproducing (in photo or painting) other’s work since the 1970s.  I think he’s the last still going of this “appropriate art” genre.   

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  3. Grant Schwingle

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here.  We studied Prince in school and I found his premise annoying but kind of necessary.  He is making a comment on photography in general.  Who is the artist?  Who owns the picture?  The person pushing the button?  The person directing?  The person printing? What artistic choices is the photographer allowed to make? The decisions a photographer makes are very important in creating their own art, but what if the only real decisions made are to crop the image?  Is that new art?  I’ve had people tell me that I shouldn’t edit images of motorcycles because I’m just reproducing someone else’s art – implying I shouldn’t make any artistic choices when photographing a thing someone else created.  Didn’t someone else basically create everything? While I side with the majority of commenters here, I think it is important to ask these questions.  Prince has always pushed the boundaries of these questions, and I think that is overall a good thing for photography as art even if he is kind of a dick about it.

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  4. Lee Hawkins

    Copyright infringement is one thing, but claiming someone else’s work as your own “art” and selling it with zero remuneration for the ACTUAL artist is 100% plagiarism. Richard Prince can pay his earnings off these images to the rightful creators along with damages that will hopefully make him and his rich friends understand that they don’t deserve special treatment. But of course this is a long shot, because big money in this world always has gotten special treatment. The only real reason this lawsuit is happening is because someone else decided to sell the same image at $90.

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  5. Motti Bembaron

    I cannot believe he was allowed to carry on like that. And what kind of a …. would pay millions for a photograph of a horse?

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  6. Eric Mazzone

    I still believe the photographers he stole from would be fully justified in busting his knees with a ball bat if the courts don’t do the right thing and put prince into the poor house.

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  7. Molon Labe

    It’s theft pure and simple.

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