Copyright and the case Richard Prince


Have you ever heard about the controversial US American painter and photographer Richard Prince? If not, he is a well-known representative of Appropriation Art – infamous among photographers for only slightly changing the works of other artists and then literally selling them as his own.

One would think that these sorts of actions infringe on copyright law, but as can be seen by the example of the case Cariou vs Prince – which was finally settled in spring 2014, after a lengthy toing and froing – the courts do not agree on whether Prince’s works are rip-offs or individual works. Below I have included an example, in order for you to get an impression of how Prince changes other people’s works. On the left is a photo by the photographer Patrick Cariou like it was printed in his photo-book Yes, Rasta in 2000; on the right is the changed version by Prince. I think it is blatantly obvious why Cariou sued Prince in 2009.



While with the photo above there is at least some room for argument about whether it is a rip-off or an individual work – since Prince has after all changed the photo at least a teeny-tiny bit – the case is clear when it comes to his new photo series “New Portraits”. This series consists of 38 screenshots, which show other users’ photos on Instagram, as well the comments section, including one or more comments by Prince. The screenshots were then scaled up, printed and shown in an exhibition in the world-famous Gagosian Gallery in New York. Allegedly, some of these prints were sold for more than $100,000, however, the photographers who took the original photos and uploaded them to Instagram – where they were appropriated by Prince – were neither asked for permission nor were they compensated. Here is one of the “New Portraits” by Prince and below the original by Doe Deere:

If the description can be trusted, the picture was sold for $90,000 during the “VIP preview”. You can find more information on

What is your opinion – can something like that really qualify as “Fair Use”?

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