Artist Richard Prince is stirring up controversy in the art world once again. Known for "appropriating" other people's works then altering them to make his own pieces, Prince is now selling blown-up prints of other people's Instagram photos as his own work. The alterations are slight at best, with only one line of text and an emoji as his sole contribution to one particular photo.
Prince has kept all the original information, including the names of the Instagram users and their additional comments, with the photos, making the whole post a part of the art piece rather than just the photo itself. Prince did not seek permission from any of the Instagram users to use their photos, and most importantly, has no plans to give them any of the profits. Reportedly at least one of the pieces has already sold for almost $100,000.
So is Prince a cultural commentator or just a thief? The artist has gotten away with similar pieces before, escaping legal action by the skin of his teeth through "fair use" laws. Prince may have pushed it too far this time around though. Many claim that the portions of original contributions Prince made to the pieces aren't enough to make the works his to sell.
Copyright lawyer and NYU law professor Charles Colman told Fortune magazine that Prince's fair use claims may not work this time around:
“It’s hard to imagine a court under the internal logic of copyright law accepting that argument. At first glance, it looks like he took other people’s photos and made a lot of money off them.”
Colman also said that if Prince's fair use claims aren't enough to hold water, the artist may also turn to Instagram's terms of service for protection. The terms require users to allow their photos to be shared within the service, a loophole Prince may use to justify using the photos without the permission of the original owners.
So far, Prince has not been sued. Instagram user Doe Deere, who spotted her own photo as part of one of Prince's works at a gallery, didn't seem to mind the piece:https://instagram.com/p/2ygLRoR2hV/?taken-by=doedeere
Perhaps Doe doesn't plan to sue because she is an art fan herself, or the photo (and the surrounding controversy) have been good publicity for her own cosmetic business.
Prince's luck may not hold out forever though. There's a good chance other owners of his re-used photos will take him to court. And there, the controversy will start all over again, which may be exactly what Prince wants.
What do you think, PopWrappers? Is Richard Prince a visionary and reactionary genius, or just a lazy artist and a thief? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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