The artist Richard Prince has been sued for a fifth time for his unauthorised use of a celebrity photographer’s work. Eric McNatt filed the latest copyright infringement lawsuit on 16 November in Manhattan’s federal court over a portrait he took in 2014 of the musician Kim Gordon, from the alternative rock band Sonic Youth, to accompany an interview published by Paper magazine. The gallery Blum & Poe and Ocula, which sells art online, are also named as defendants in the case.
According to McNatt’s complaint, the day after Paper published his photograph with the interview, Prince posted the portrait on Instagram, modified only by minor cropping at the top and bottom and three captions written by Prince. The artist then blew up the Instagram portrait as an inkjet print, which was exhibited by Blum & Poe at its Tokyo gallery in 2015, and offered for sale on Oculus’s website, according to the court papers. McNatt also says that Prince and the gallery included it in a book of Prince’s Instagram-based portraits. McNatt’s clients include the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Courtney Love, and McNatt claims that Prince’s unauthorised use of his work usurps the market for his portraits.
Prince’s attorney Josh Schiller says that the complaint “fundamentally misunderstands fair use”, a principle his client is fighting for to the benefit of “many, many artists”.
In 2008, Patrick Cariou sued Prince for using his Rastafarian portraits. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 ruled that 25 of Prince’s works were fair use; the parties settled Cariou’s claims on the remaining five works. McNatt’s complaint quotes an interview Prince gave Russh magazine, where he said Cariou’s lawsuit helped sell the paintings that used his work. “If this guy had let it alone, well it was a very unsuccessful body of work, and it would have gone away.”
Prince has filed a motion to dismiss a suit brought by another photographer, Donald Graham, with the decision pending in Manhattan federal court. Two other suits brought against Prince in California, by Ashley Salazar and Dennis Morris, were dismissed last August on the understanding they would be refiled in New York.