Leech Tishman

An “appropriation artist” is in the news for selling enlarged prints of other people’s Instagram photos for $90,000.

According to The Guardian, most of Richard Prince’s works being presented at the Frieze Art Fair are taken from the Instagram feed of the SuicideGirls – young female models and performers with a “punk rock aesthetic.”

Prince did not obtain permission for his use of the photos from the models, the photographers, or Instagram. When one of his subjects found out how much he was selling her image for, she offered to sell her own prints for $90 and to donate the proceeds to charity.

The images are blown up to about six feet tall and jet-printed on canvas. The only additions to the original images are cryptic remarks by Prince in the comment threads – such as “Private Lives, mind if I sneeze on.”

Prince takes an iPhone screen-grab of each image after he comments, emails that to an assistant, and uses that as the basis for his art.

“Genius Trolling”

When Prince’s works were shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last fall, New York Magazine’s art critic called them “genius trolling.”

Some have questioned how Prince’s work can possibly be legal under copyright and privacy laws. However, the Second Circuit ruled in 2013 in the case of Cariou v. Prince that a series by Prince in which he painted over photos torn from a photographer’s copyright-protected book was “transformative” and thus allowed under the “fair use” exception to copyright law.

The court stated:

If “the secondary use adds value to the original — if [the original work] is used as raw material, transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings — this is the very type of activity that the fair use doctrine intends to protect for the enrichment of society.”

Takeaway

The fact that Prince is allowed to do what he does with the intellectual property of others does not mean that everyone has carte blanche to do the same. Copyright issues at the intersection of art and commerce are especially complex and “fair use” is evaluated by courts after consideration of a number of factors.

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Photo Attribution: “Pictogram” by The Pink Group. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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