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Richard Prince- New York Based Artist Sued For Copyright Infringement

Written by Fozia Cheychi on 13 January 2016

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It is reported that a complaint was filed by Graham on 30 December 2015 against Prince, the Gagosian Gallery- where Prince’s New Portraits exhibition was held between September 2014 and October 2014, and Lawrence Gagosian the owner of the Gagosian Gallery.

The complaint states that Prince’s reproduction of Graham’s photograph – which is a black and white image of a Rastafarian man lighting a marijuana cigarette- was not modified adequately to warrant it being an original work. The contentious piece was sold to Gagosian after the New Portarista exhibition closed.

According to the Complaint, Prince’s ‘The New Portraits collection exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery featured 37 inkjet prints on canvas, Prince referred to the inkjet prints as “screen saves” of Instagram posts. The images were blown up in size and the only other modification to the images exhibited by Prince could be seen in the comments underneath the pictures, these comments comprised of bizarre sentences and emoji’s. Prince’s work sold for up to $100,000 a piece at New York’s Frieze art fair.

The complaint further states that the infringing work includes a reproduction of the copyrighted photograph. The modifications are “minor cropping of the bottom and top portions” of the image, leaving most of the image “fully intact” and framing the copyrighted photograph with elements of the Instagram graphic user interface” including a line of text above the photograph with a “thumbnail” image and username of the Instagram account holder responsible for posting the image to Instagram and lines of text below the image reads “richardprince4 Canal Zinian da lam jam” with a pictogram of a fist. With regards to modification, it mentions the resizing of the photograph to 4 ft ¾ inches.

This is not the first time that Prince has been involved in a legal dispute with an artist whose work he is used without permission. In 2014, it was reported that Prince settled a three-year-long copyright case with photographer Patrick Cariou, In this case, it was alleged that Prince had used Cariou’s book on the Rastafarian community ‘Yes, Rasta’ as part of his Canal Zone series.

To this end the complaint notes that Prince has “achieved notoriety in the “appropriation of art” in the industry for his blatant disregard of copyright la. “Mr Prince consistently and repeatedly has incorporated others’ works into works for which he claims sole authorship without obtaining permission from, or providing compensation, recognition, attribution to, the original work’s author.”

Prince is a controversial character and at the time of Cartiou’s complaint in 2011, he commented “Copyright has never interested me. For most part of my life I owned half a stereo, so there was no point in suing me, but that’s changed now and it’s interesting…So, sometimes it’s better not to be successful and well-known and you can get away with much more. I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn’t matter because no one cared, no one was paying any attention.”

In October 2014, Graham posted a photo of the work to his Instagram page, this included the print featuring the Rastafarian Smoking Joint. The caption alongside the image read “Appropriated Exhibit. The only way you’d know my work was a part of this display…is well, that’s just it, you wouldn’t know. #PrinceofAppropriation.

The suit further notes that on 25 October 2014, Prince replied to a post on Twitter made by Graham’s wife regarding the appropriation saying “You can have your photo back. I don’t want it. You can have all the credit in the world.”

Neither Prince nor the Gagosian Gallery were available for comment.

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