Copyright Issues

This week we studied an interesting issue around Copyright and fair use – The case of Patrick Cariou vs Richard Prince and His Gallery: Gagosian (Ref: Art in America Magazine)

The case concerned the re-use of images from am earlier work of Patrick Cariou, the 2000 book ‘Yes, Rasta’ (Powerhouse) for a show at the Gagosian Gallery featuring then work of Richard Prince under the title ‘Canal Zone’. This featured a series of paintings, some of which featured Cariou’s work which had been painted on.

Although the initial ruling of the action went against Prince (2011)that decision was later overturned on appeal (2013). The decision hinged on whether or not Princes manipulation of Carious images was transformative (and thus protected under fair use) or not.

If ‘adding paint’ to a pre-exisiting image is considered ‘transformative’ then Prince was right to be cleared of a copyright infringement but does doing so result in the creation of a new work? In my opinion (and I am no artist)  this was not the case. Had my work been so treated then I would have felt aggrieved (and if I could afford the fees involved) taken a similar action against Prince.

The use of another artists work (and I consider photographers to be artists) continues to be a ‘grey’ area – at what point does altering a copy of a pre-exisiting work create something new or transformed? Is it acceptable to, for example, take parts of such works then recombine them to in a montage or collage form to create a new work?

For myself, I have always been suspicious of the work of Richard Prince – most just seems to me to consist of a small portion of the work of others with minimal attempt to substantially alter the work or to create something new.

Although I frequently find myself inspired or influenced by the work of other artists I have no desire to copy or reproduce/reuse that work although, it could be argued that photographing a piece of graffiti  daubed on a wall is just such an act (and if so then I am guilty of doing the same thing as Prince) but, if the context of the photograph some how changes the graffiti, either by a more creative use of lighting or viewing angle, then I do believe that a new work has been made. I also believe that if the original artist is known, then that work should also be attributed to that artists. However, I would strive to avoid such a situation if at all possible.

So, was Prince guilty of a copyright infringement – I believe he was but, as with so many other things, that is just my personal opinion.


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