Friday, April 10, 2009

Copyright Infringement: Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian respond to Patrick Cariou's lawsuit

Right: Collage by Richard Prince. Left: Photograph by Patrick Cariou

The issue of copyright infringement and “fair use” concerning visual art has been a hot topic as of late. For example, the mainstream media has devoted attention to the case involving Shepard Fairey and the Associated Press concerning Fairey’s infringement of an AP owned photograph taken by Mannie Garcia. However, there is another important copyright infringement case in the works that has received little press compared to the Fairey AP clash-- even though the outcome of the case is just as important to the art world and to copyright law as we know it. That situation involves photographer Patrick Cariou, Richard Prince, exhibit catalogue publisher Rizzoli, Gagosian Gallery, and art dealer Larry Gagosian.

For those who don’t know about the case-- Patrick Cariou, a photographer and author, filed a lawsuit against Richard Prince in December of last year after Richard Prince and Gagosian Gallery failed to acknowledge his cease-and-desist letter. Cariou’s lawsuit claims that photographs used by Prince for a series of collages were illegally borrowed from his book Yes Rasta-- which was registered in 2001.

Cariou claims that his photographs were illegally used in at least twenty Richard Prince collages exhibited by Gagosian Gallery in 2008. The collages, eight of which were sold, were priced between $1.5 million and $3 million each. Prince did not give the photographer credit or offer compensation-- and has since suggested that Cariou is a mediocre photographer.

As mentioned, Patrick Cariou did not stop with just Richard Prince-- the suit, which was filed in a U.S. federal court, also targets the Gagosian Gallery, the owner of the gallery Lawrence Gagosian, and the publisher of the exhibit catalogue, Rizzoli. Cariou’s suit claims that all parties were involved in the infringement. Thus, if the court rules in Cariou’s favor the precedent may play a role in the willingness of publishers, art galleries, and art dealers as far as working with artists who have a history of copyright infringement allegations.

In other words, if the court favors Patrick Cariou art dealers may think twice before exhibiting or promoting artists who have a history of copyright infringement allegations against them due to the potential financial burden that would occur if the infringer is exposed by a copyright owner. On that same note, publishers may refuse to create exhibit catalogues for artists who are known copyright infringers. Needless to say, a win for Cariou-- and for copyright-- could potentially change the ’landscape’ of the art world as well as the art market in general.

Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian have-- for the most part-- been silent about Patrick Cariou’s allegations-- until now. Gagosian’s lawyers have responded to Cariou’s lawsuit. The Gagosian legal team suggests that Prince’s use of Cariou’s photographs are protected under “fair use”. They suggest that the collages are acceptable due to the fact that Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians in their native environments are “factually based”. Gagosian’s legal team goes on to suggest that the exhibition of the collages was not “commercially exploitative” and that the collages were created with a “genuine creative rationale” in good faith.

Richard Prince-- who is considered to be a pioneer of appropriation art and is often cited by copyright infringers-- has stated that Patrick Cariou’s photographs are not “strikingly original” or “distinctive in nature” and that his collages are “sanctioned under fair use”. Prince has also suggested that his use of Cariou’s photographs “poses no harm” to the value of Cariou’s work and that his use has instead increased the value of Cariou’s photographs. Prince also stated that his use of Cariou’s images reflect “established artistic practices”. However, Patrick Cariou and other supporters of copyright obviously have a different take on the situation.

Patrick Cariou has suggested that the unauthorized use of his photographs has harmed the integrity of his book Yes Rasta-- which involves photographs spanning a decade. Cariou has also suggested that Richard Prince would not have used 30 of his photographs if he were just a mediocre photograph. He feels that Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian are arrogant for suggesting that his photographs are not original or distinctive.

In the suit Patrick Cariou demands that the unsold artworks and exhibit catalogues be destroyed. Cariou also demands that the owners of the sold paintings be informed that it is illegal to display the work. This means that if the court sides with Cariou you will be hard pressed to find the Richard Prince collages involving Cariou’s work exhibited in a public collection-- or anywhere else for that matter. Needless to say, this case could be groundbreaking in that it will establish some order concerning how “fair use“ is interpreted-- either for or against it. The outcome of this case will drastically change the art world / art market.

While Shepard Fairey’s case against the Associated Press is a breeding ground for media buzz one could argue that the outcome of Patrick Cariou’s lawsuit against Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian is debatably more important for artists to observe-- especially artists who support copyright. It is true that if Shepard Fairey / Obey Giant Art Inc. wins against the AP it will set a legal precedent that will give companies-- like Obey Giant Art Inc.-- more pull when using copyrighted images for merchandise. However, the case involving Patrick Cariou and Richard Prince hits closer to home within the art world.

The case involving Cariou, Prince, and Gagosian will set a legal precedent that will effect the ability of artists to protect their copyright within the art world itself-- to protect their work from gallery represented artists and art dealers who-- debatably-- have more financial resources going into a case involving copyright infringement. Thus, emerging artists who support copyright should keep an eye on the outcome of Cariou’s lawsuit. I would go as far as to say that art dealers who support strong copyright should keep a watchful eye on the case as well.

Honestly, artists are not the only individuals harmed by weak copyright protection. Art collectors and art dealers can be harmed as well. Why invest in a work of art if it can be mass produced without restraint by any individual or company? The art market will be meaningless if we continue to stand back while copyright is chipped away to the point that artists are unable to uphold their copyright in court. Is my opinion extreme? Perhaps. However, there are enough examples of extreme interpretations of “fair use” to go around-- and people blindly accepting it-- to cause concern.

Links of Interest:

Fair Use in a Nutshell:A Roadmap to Copyright's Most Important Exception -- CopyLaw

Richard Prince and Gagosian fight back over copyright -- The Art Newspaper

Patrick Cariou Versus Richard Prince -- Myartspace Blog

Photographer Patrick Cariou Sues Richard Prince for Copyright Infringement

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

1 comment:

Donald Frazell said...

Bad art often relies on appropriating images, using someone elses for the full impact, what little is done more weakens the image, and reveals an idiot at the helm.

This is nothng new. i remember a German Expressionist show at LACMA in the early 80s. While there was much excellent work by Kirchner, Grolz, and others, there was also much ripping off of African art. Taking obviously another cultures images, and finishing them into meaninglessness, and having the attitude that one had made it better. When it just showed the arrogance and stupidity of the artiste.

Bad artists have always been around, perhaps not in the number and percentage of today, but using others for ones own benefit is a all too human trait. This Prince fool, as with pretty much all Gagosian garbage, is just following in their stankin footsteps. Artistes are no better than anyone else, just as many fools, and Aholes, as any other field.

art collegia delenda est