Third copyright lawsuit filed against Richard Prince for appropriating Sid Vicious photo

The artist is accused of using a London photographer’s image of the Sex Pistol’s bassist in an Instagram work

In yet another copyright lawsuit against the appropriation artist Richard Prince, Dennis Morris LLC, the London-based photographer’s corporation, filed a complaint on 3 June in California federal court.  

Morris is seeking unspecified damages and any profits the artist and his dealer Gagosian Gallery made from Prince’s alleged use of three photographs of the 1970s punk rock band the Sex Pistols. According to the complaint, Prince used the images in work included in the 2011 exhibition Untitled (Covering Pollock) at Guild Hall in East Hampton.  

Morris also says Prince violated his copyright in a photograph of Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie), the band’s charismatic bass guitarist who was arrested in 1978 for the stabbing murder of his girlfriend, and died of a heroin overdose the next year. The complaint includes a screen shot of the photograph, cropped, as an Instagram posted by Prince. The defendants, Morris says, sold the photograph over the internet as an untitled work. Morris’s image is currently featured on the photographer’s website.

This is the third copyright suit against Prince in recent years. In December 2015, Prince, the gallery and Larry Gagosian were sued by the Los Angeles photographer Donald Graham, so says they violated his copyright in Rastafarian Smoking a Joint. Prince enlarged an Instagram screenprint of the work and exhibited it in his New Portraits show at Gagosian Gallery in September and October 2014. The defendants’ motion to dismiss that case is now pending in Manhattan federal court. In the third lawsuit, the same defendants won a case brought by Patrick Cariou for using his photographs in Prince’s Canal Zone series, also exhibited at Gagosian. In 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled Prince had not violated Cariou’s copyright because the paintings were “transformative” and therefore fair use.

Joshua Schiller, Prince's lawyer in the two previous cases, had not yet read the complaint when asked to comment on the Morris lawsuit.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that Joshua Schiller also represented the Gagosian Gallery in the two previous lawsuits. Schiller only represented Prince.