Art law News USA

Supreme Court won’t hear controversial copyright case

Appellate decision stands that Richard Prince did not violate Patrick Cariou’s Rasta photographs for most of "Canal Zone" series

The US Supreme Court decided today that it will not hear Patrick Cariou's copyright case against the artist Richard Prince

The US Supreme Court, in an order issued today, has decided not to hear the controversial copyright case between the photographer Patrick Cariou and the artist Richard Prince, who appropriated Cariou’s images of Rastafarians in 30 paintings in the series “Canal Zone”.

The Supreme Court leaves standing the opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which decided in April that 25 of Prince’s paintings did not violate Cariou’s copyright. A question hangs over the other five works, which the appellate court could not reach a decision on and sent back to the lower district court to evaluate.

The Second Circuit said that the standard for determining fair use depended on whether an observer would find the new use transformative of the original. It said that Prince’s manipulations of Cariou’s photographs met that test in the majority of the paintings because they presented a “crude” aesthetic that was different from Cariou’s “serene” work.

It also said that Prince’s paintings did not need to comment on Cariou’s in order to be transformative. Prince had previously testified that he did not intend to comment on the photographs, and that testimony played a large part in the district court’s decision, which had ruled in favor of Cariou.

The Second Circuit’s decision has been criticised by many lawyers who assert that it does not provide them with clear guidance in copyright questions. Cariou’s lawyer had asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s standard, which he characterised as an “I know it when I see it” approach that is “necessarily subjective, arbitrary and unworkable”.

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18 Nov 13
2:11 CET


The premise of copyright here in the US was that a creator would be granted a certain level of protection for his/her work but with the understanding that those same legal protections would end at a specific point in the future. Things changed for the worse in the past 20 years. As an example, characters Mickey Mouse and Co should have entered the public domain years ago but the corporation that we know as Disney helped strong-arm copyright into being perverted to protect assets that would soon not belong to it anymore. Way to move the goal posts mid-game Federal Gov't. Anyway, copyright in its outdated form is badly broken and needs to be completely revamped. Artists should be mature enough to realize that even in their lifetimes there will be derivatives and appropriations of their work. With that in mind, the re-inventors should give credit where due. That would go a long way towards taking the worst of the sting out of innovation and appropriation.

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