Lawsuit filed against Richard Prince
Images of Rastafarians under dispute by photographer Patrick Cariou
By Andrew Goldstein. Published online: 21 January 2009
NEW YORK. French photographer Patrick Cariou has launched a lawsuit against Richard Prince, claiming that the artist improperly lifted images from Cariou’s photographic survey of Rastafarian culture for a recent series of paintings. The suit, filed in New York, also names as defendants Larry Gagosian, Prince’s dealer who displayed the series in a recent show titled “Canal Zone”, and publishing house Rizzoli, which co-produced the catalogue. In addition to seeking unspecified damages for copyright infringement, the lawsuit also demands the “impounding, destruction, or other disposition” of all of the paintings, unsold catalogues and preparatory materials involved in the making of the works.
Cariou filed the suit after being alerted that the show contained images of dreadlocked men and woman seemingly copied from Yes Rasta, a book Cariou published in 2000 after a decade of photographing Rastafarian culture in the hinterlands of Jamaica. According to the lawsuit, 20 out of the 22 works in the series—a pastiche-like amalgam of Rastafarian images, porn photos and painterly strokes recalling artists such as de Kooning and Picasso—featured photographs from Cariou’s book. The photographer’s lawyer and representatives for Prince and Mr Gagosian all declined to comment on the suit.
Prince, whose work typically incorporates images from a variety of sources, has previously incurred some resentment for his practice. In the 1980s photographer Garry Gross sued Prince over Spiritual America, a 1983 work that consisted of a blown-up copy of a picture Gross took of a nude, pre-pubescent Brooke Shields. Reportedly the suit was settled out of court. A series of enlarged Marlborough advertisements that brought Prince international celebrity in the 1990s—selling for millions of dollars, a price his work now routinely commands—also created consternation among the lesser-known commercial photographers who shot the cowboy-themed pictures. Prince himself, who has said of his work that he’s “practising without a license”, unapologetically problematises issues of authorship. The essay for the show’s catalogue, for instance, was written by James Frey, the controversial author who fabricated whole swathes of his 2003 “memoir”, A Million Little Pieces.
In the lawsuit, Cariou’s lawyers argue that the appropriations in “Canal Zone” are especially egregious because they involve the recent work of a fellow artist whose images are the result of years of ethnographic research, not simply the output of a commercial photographer. However, the question facing the judge if the case goes to court will largely boil down to whether Prince’s use of the images was transformative and therefore permissible under the United States’ doctrine of “fair use”, which allows for limited reproduction of copyright imagery for the purpose of parody or other creative ends. A significant recent case regarding the practice of appropriation in art was Blanch v Koons, a 2006 action where fashion photographer Andrea Blanch sued Jeff Koons for incorporating a photo she took of a woman’s lower legs for Allure magazine. The suit was decided in Koons’s favour when a judge found the artist’s appropriation to be transformative.
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