Photographer Wins Copyright Lawsuit Against Artist Richard Prince

Posted by David Ozanich — 22 Mar 2011


In a surprising and potentially influential ruling yesterday, a US district court judge ruled in favor of Patrick Cariou in his copyright lawsuit against the artist Richard Prince.

Prince is known for appropriating iconic imagery like the Marlboro Man in his paintings. In a recent series called "Canal Zone" he used "at least 41" images from Cariou's 2000 book "Yes, Rasta." Subsequently, a gallery canceled an exhibition of "Yes, Rasta" photographs after learning of Prince's show.

Cariou sued for copyright infringement against Prince, his dealer Larry Gagosian, and Rizzoli Books. Prince argued "fair use" which allows for the appropriation of copyrighted material to create "transformative" works of art that comment in some way on the original and are therefore original themselves.

However, the judge ruled that Prince's works were not quite transformative enough and were derivative of Cariou's original work. Reports Arts Beat:

Mr. Prince testified in the case that he had no interest in the original meaning of the photographs he used, Judge Batts wrote. In creating the "Canal Zone" works he mainly used the imagery as a way to make references to painters like Picasso and Willem de Kooning and to connect the works to a postapocalyptic screenplay he was planning that featured a reggae band.

For that reason, and because Mr. Prince used the imagery for commercially available paintings, Judge Batts ruled that he and the Gagosian gallery violated Mr. Cariou's copyrights. She ordered all unsold copies of the "Canal Zone" paintings and other related works to be impounded and ordered that the gallery inform anyone who already owned copies of the works that it would be a violation of copyright laws to display them. She also ordered the parties to return to court in May to discuss possible damages.

More in-depth details about the ruling and its ramifications at The Art Newspaper which dissects the four key issues of the "fair use" ruling.

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