From the New York Post:
Artist Richard Prince has done album covers for Sonic Youth and A Tribe Called Quest; ranks as a darling of influential collectors such as Marc Jacobs, Peter Brant and Charles Saatchi; and until recently was repped by Larry Gagosian’s namesake gallery. He even collaborated with Louis Vuitton on a line of watercolor-print handbags.
But depending on whom you ask, Prince, 68, is either one of the world’s greatest artists or a stone-cold thief.
Making bank through provocation, the New Yorker has worked to create that division — and has the legal issues to prove it. So much so that his pal, “Spring Breakers” filmmaker Harmony Korine, has said, “For Richard, the lawsuits are also the artwork.”
It’s a good thing, since Prince currently finds himself up to his neck in them.
As put by Christopher Davis, one of the lawyers litigating against him, Prince is “a notorious appropriation artist who has made tens of millions of dollars over the course of his career by reproducing, modifying and preparing derivative works of others, typically without permission . . . ”
The current spate of lawsuits — four of them — are all related to 2014’s “New Portraits” show, originally mounted at Gagosian. Works in the exhibition depicted pictures of regular folk and stars — including Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson — plucked via screenshot from Instagram accounts, printed by Prince on canvases and tweaked with written comments from Prince.
For decades, Prince has mostly been able to sidestep other artists who felt wronged by his usage — free-expression laws afford a wide berth for adapting the visual work of others — but that trend may be reversing. In July, United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein shut down a request for dismissal of a suit from professional photographer Donald Graham, whose work was appropriated by Prince in “New Portraits.”
Graham said that he pursued legal recourse for himself and hopes to set a standard that will aid others. “Copyright is a foundation for photographers to make a living,” he told The Post.
Prince’s lawyer, Joshua Schiller, insisted: “We’re saying that it’s fair use.”
. . . .
Lacking traditional art training — the artist once admitted to Artforum, “I had limited technical skills . . . Actually I had no skills” — Prince’s career began after he moved from his childhood hometown of Boston to Manhattan in 1973 and got a job in the library at Time Inc. There, he snipped and archived magazine pages, foreshadowing his later work.
He started getting modest art-world attention in the late 1970s and early ’80s for pieces such as spot-on reproductions of cigarette ads. In 1983, Prince re-photographed a 1975 shot of a naked 10-year-old Brooke Shields and called it “Spiritual America” (the title was copped from an Alfred Stieglitz photo). It was first shown in the front window of a Lower East Side store rented by Prince for this single purpose.
Garry Gross, the shot’s original photographer, won a $2,000 settlement from Prince and an agreement that he would be credited every time the appropriated version was shown at the Whitney — a promise Prince reneged on in ’92. (After Gross pointed it out, Whitney employees credited him.)
In 2014, Prince’s copy of Gross’ photo sold at auction for $3,973,000.
Link to the rest at the New York Post
PG notes that if you enter fair use vs. derivative works or fair use vs. transformative use into your Google search box, you’ll find a great deal of commentary about the the line between the legal and the illegal under copyright law.
However, you will not find a bright line.
During his brief Google-dive into the topic, PG did find a piece written by someone at the University of Minnesota Libraries that PG thought described the issues clearly (and briefly) in terms a non-lawyer might appreciate.
PG also notes that the the University helpfully makes all content in the Copyright Information section of its website available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Here’s an excerpt:
Fair use is an important part of copyright law that provides some flexibility for users and new creators. At its core, fair use ensures that there are some kinds of uses that do not require permission or payment. But there are no easy rules for fair use – if you want to take advantage of its flexibility, you have to understand its complexities!
Although there are other exceptions to the far-reaching rights of copyright holders, most of those exceptions only apply in very limited circumstances. Fair use is much more flexible, but also much harder to understand and apply. To understand fair use, you need to be familiar with the four statutory factors, and the idea of “transformativeness”. To think through whether a particular use is a fair use, you have to look at these details and other associated issues as a whole. Even then, fair use is unpredictable enough that the best anyone can do is make a well-informed, reasonable guess.
Link to the rest at University of Minnesota Libraries – Copyright Information
The University also provides an interactive tool to assist in “Thinking Through Fair Use.” The Office for Information Technology Policy of the American Library Association also has an online interactive Fair Use Evaluator.
PG cautions that the use of these tools is not a substitute for consulting a competent attorney for close cases. He’ll also caution that fair use is not the only potential legal question. The proper/improper use of a trademark owned by someone else may come into play and the Right of Publicity may be another issue that comes into play.
PG will also note that executives of large entertainment conglomerates, many of which are located in the Los Angeles area, can be aggressive about enforcing their rights under a variety of theories. Think very, very hard before you include a picture of Mickey Mouse in your book or you will learn far more about copyright and trademark law than you know at present. (Here’s a link if you want a preview)