Sid Vicious’s Photographer Sues Richard Prince for Copyright Infringement

It's the latest in a string of copyright accusations.

Richard Prince.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan.Company, Inc.
An excerpt from photographer Dennis Morris' complaint against Richard Prince.

An excerpt from photographer Dennis Morris’ complaint against Richard Prince.

Los Angeles-based photographer Dennis Morris is the latest artist to sue appropriation artist Richard Prince, as well as Gagosian gallery, for copyright infringement. Morris’s suit, filed on June 3 in US District Court for the Central District of California, centers on Prince’s use of photos of Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious.

The relatively brief, ten-page complaint belies its complexity, spanning issues such as international copyright law, Instagram posts, and “advertising activity” that occurred in the US. Morris is seeking an unspecified amount for damages for the image, which was allegedly taken in Sweden.

According to the suit, Morris believes Prince has used the cover photo of David Dalton’s book El Sid, Saint Vicious (1997), which contains Morris’s photo of the musician, in his work. The complaint includes an image of a signed copy, apparently dedicated to Prince by Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, that reads, “Hi Richard, this is about the best singer that ever was…”



“After accessing Plaintiff’s work,” according to the filing, Prince “wrongfully created copies of the copyrighted Subject Image without Plaintiff’s consent and engaged in acts of affirmative and widespread self-promotion of the copies directed to the public at large by distributing said copies, falsely representing that the Subject Image was their own.”

The photographer cites the image’s display “on the Internet,” including an Instagram post, as well as an untitled piece that depicts what appears to be a collage- like work with shots of random celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, recently deceased pop-star Prince, Sid Vicious, and Sylvester Stallone.

“I think the issues are all pretty straightforward,” said Doug Linde, an attorney for Morris in Los Angeles.

According to the complaint, Morris says Prince used other photos of the Sex Pistols in his “Covering Pollock” series, and references this example:Morris-Complaint3

That work was part of a show “Richard Prince: Covering Pollock” that was shown at Guild Hall in eastern Long Island, in 2011.

As the Morris complaint alleges, Prince and Gagosian “have obtained direct and indirect profits they would not otherwise have realized but for their infringement of Plaintiff’s copyrighted Subject Image. Plaintiff is entitled to disgorgement of each Defendant’s profits directly and indirectly.” Further, the suit notes, Prince and Gagosian sold the works using Morris’s images “over the internet and in Los Angeles County, California.”

According to his website, Morris worked closely with reggae legend Bob Marley and trailed the Sex Pistols for a year “taking hundreds of undisputed classic shots of the band.”

Art law expert and blogger Sérgio Muñoz Sarmiento, who flagged the lawsuit on Twitter this morning, told artnet News via email:

“This new lawsuit continues to raise the as-of-yet unanswered questions concerning contemporary art practices, globalization and digital media. Of notable interest, if not curiosity, is how the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in ‘advertising activity’. One could probably say that we may be nearing a time when art and commercial creations are viewed as one. How this will impact ‘artists’ in the traditional meaning of the word is still to be seen.”

artnet News did not receive an immediate comment from representatives of Gagosian gallery.

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