Prince versus Cariou copyright case settled
The photographer has withdrawn a lawsuit against the appropriation artist
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 18 March 2014
The art world’s most closely watched lawsuit, the copyright case between the photographer Patrick Cariou and the artist Richard Prince, has come to an end. The two sides reached a confidential settlement on Tuesday after six years of legal wrangling. As part of the agreement, Cariou withdraws any claim to the works in Prince’s “Canal Zone” series, which borrowed imagery from his photographs of Jamaican Rastafarians. Both sides will pay their own legal fees.
The closing of this chapter in the debate over appropriation art comes after the US Court of Appeals largely overturned an earlier ruling in favour of Cariou. Last April, a three-judge panel concluded that 25 of Prince’s works sufficiently transformed Cariou’s material to qualify as fair use. The judges sent back five works from the series—including the oft-reproduced Graduation, a collage depicting a shirtless man holding a blue guitar—to the District Court, which was due to reconsider whether or not they infringed on Cariou’s copyright. In the final, if anticlimactic, win for Prince, Cariou has now relinquished any claim on the remaining five works.
Cariou’s lawyer Dan Brooks confirmed the case had been settled but said he could not discuss the specifics or his client’s feelings about the outcome. Prince’s lawyer Josh Schiller said that the artist “is pleased to have this settlement and be able to focus on his work without further distraction". He added: "It is important that artists know they need not justify their new expressive work without first ensuring compliance with legally constructed statements of purposes of intent." A spokeswoman for Gagosian Gallery says, “Gagosian Gallery is very pleased by the Second Circuit's decision and that the matter has now been finally resolved.”
Over the past year, numerous organisations with a stake in the case’s outcome submitted “friend of the court” briefs. The American Photographic Artists, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Press Photographers Association and several other professional groups came out in support of Cariou, while the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Rauschenberg Foundation submitted an argument in support of Prince, which was endorsed by 29 museums and arts organisations. The former claimed that an unequivocal victory for Prince would threaten photographers’ ability to profit from their own work; the latter claimed that even a partial victory for Cariou would discourage artists from experimentation.
The settlement is not the decisive conclusion that many observers wanted. The art lawyer Virginia Rutledge, who co-authored the Warhol and Rauschenberg Foundations' amicus brief, called the outcome “a good result for Prince” but said, “an even better result would have been a precedent that affirmed the larger fair use and free speech values at stake. Artists and audiences shouldn’t need a lawyer to help them establish that what they see as new artistic expression counts, legally, as art.”
Mickey Osterreicher, the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the case’s legacy may be to encourage artists to rely on fair use when they could—and should—have simply asked for permission. “Fair use has become a buzzword,” he said. “Unfortunately, copyright appears to be the exception to fair use, rather than the other way around.”
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