Richard Prince Steals More Instagram Photographs and Sells Them for $100,000
Richard Prince’s “New Portraits,” pictures culled from the Instagram accounts of various (largely female) celebrities, models, and other professionally beautiful people are back in the news again thanks to a current show of works by Prince at one of Gagosian Gallery’s Madison Avenue spaces and their inclusion in the gallery’s sprawling booth at Frieze New York where they were reportedly selling for up to $100,000.
As they have in the past, such as with his “Canal Zone” series, questions of copyright infringement have dominated the dialogue surrounding them on sites including PetaPixel and Business Insider. Prince pulls the photographs directly from the Instagram pages of his subjects, appropriating them as his own and hawking them for six figures. He hasn’t made perfect replicas of the original photos—he adds his own comment, takes a screenshot of the photo and comments, and blows it up to fit a large canvas. But at least one of the subjects has expressed that she did not give permission to Prince to use her photo and likeness.
“Yes, my portrait is currently displayed at the Frieze Gallery in NYC,” model and cosmetics entrepreneur Doe Deere wrote on Instagram last week. A portrait of her with her hair dyed powder blue holding a doll with similar powder blue-colored hair was presented at Frieze New York. “Yes, it’s just a screenshot (not a painting). No, I did not give my permission and yes, the controversial artist Richard Prince put it up anyway. It’s already sold ($90K I’ve been told) during the VIP preview. No, I’m not gonna go after him. And nope, I have no idea who ended up with it!”
Deere tagged the post #lifeisstrange #modernart #wannabuyaninstagrampicture. Ironically, Deere herself has faced criticism for allegedly repackaging beauty products from other brands and selling them at a markup under the brand Lime Crime. The brand has developed a cult following, despite complaints from multiple customers that their credit card information has been stolen after placing an order from the brand’s website.
As Business Insider notes, unless Prince is taken to court, there’s no way of knowing whether or not he is guilty of copyright infringement, despite the fact that he hasn’t received permission to use most of the photographs. And the fact that he’s altered the images—even slightly—might help the work meet the requirements of fair use, a defense against the charge of copyright infringement.
In 2013, Prince won a lawsuit in the United States Court of Appeals against photographer Patrick Cariou over his “Canal Zone” series, for which Prince modified in various ways several of Cariou’s Panamanian landscape photographs and portraits of Rastafarians. The judge ruled that all but five of the works altered the original content enough that they were “transformative” and did not constitute infringement.
Prince’s 2013 win was precedent-setting. It is worth noting that the images in “New Portraits” seem to be edited much less significantly by Prince than those used in “Canal Zone,” but then, why wouldn’t he continue to push the envelope—especially if he can get payed for it. As the Art Law Blog notes, it isn’t exactly breaking news that Prince is an appropriation artist.
Either way, until someone steps up and takes him to court, the legality of Princes’s use of the Instagram images remains a matter of speculation.
Of course, he could always get booted off Instagram again.
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