Fifth Lawsuit Filed Against Richard Prince, Artist Notorious for Profiting by Stealing Other Photographers' Work

Fifth Lawsuit Filed Against Richard Prince, Artist Notorious for Profiting by Stealing Other Photographers' Work

Remember artist Richard Prince? If you don’t know him by name, you’ll know him by scandal. Two years ago, Prince launched a series of photos titled, "New Portraits," which by-and-large consisted of stealing photographers’ work and uploading it to his own Instagram profile, after which he screen-shot the results and printed them out, calling it his own art. Unsurprisingly, his controversial series led to four lawsuits against him. Now, he’s facing a fifth lawsuit involving a photograph of Sonic Youth musician Kim Gordon.

Photographer Eric McNatt was enlisted by Paper Magazine to shoot Gordon for the band's 30th anniversary issue back in 2014. Prince is once again up to his usual antics, this time selecting the main photo from the set of Gordon's shoot. McNatt’s photo assistant from this very shoot admitted that the creative team wasn't paid for the project and made comparisons of Prince's work to music piracy, relating to Gordon's fans illegally downloading her music. Undoubtedly, the lack of payment for the original shoot coupled with the fact Prince is profiting from the piece makes the situation even more infuriating.

What’s more, Gordon has only added fuel to the fire by uploading a photo of herself holding Prince’s artwork – and thanking him for it.

View this post on Instagram

So thrilled thank you@richardprince4

A post shared by Kim Gordon (@kimletgordon) on

Prince’s legal team, however, is confident he has done nothing wrong in legal terms. An extract from their statement reads:

[McNatt’s] complaint fundamentally misunderstands the case law on fair use and how the exemption from the monopoly of rights granted under the copyright statute applies.

They’d be likely to know, since Prince has been through this process several times before. He previously lifted images of a range of different women from their own Instagram accounts. He enlarged the photos and then added a few comments and emojis before selling the work as his own, sometimes for as much as $100,000. Prince has even managed to win court cases filed against him due to rulings that state Prince’s works to be "transformative, and thus fair use."

Is it fair that he can profit from other people’s works in this way?

[via Paper Magazine]

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39 Comments

Thuy Vu's picture

Here is where Copywrite gets tricky. I don't fully understand the legal part, but from a graphic artist standpoint, you can use elements of photos and other artwork as long as you change it to the point that it is completely different from the original. However, enlarging an original and passing it off as your work is not ethical. What he's doing is rather wrong especially when the original photographer did not even get paid for his work.

Jack Alexander's picture

I don't know how he has the nerve! I can only assume (and hope) those buying his work are oblivious to the fact the images are stolen.

marc gabor's picture

I can only assume those who are buying his art know a little bit about Richard Prince that he has appropriating images since the 70's.

"Appropriating"? Let me correct that for you: Richard Prince has been stealing images since the 70's. The correct word is: stealing. Profiting from other people's work, without their authorization, is a shameful, immoral way of making art, and it's usually a way of making very sucky art.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

HE ads a "instagram comment" to the image and apparently that's anough to make it tranformative. Bulls... if you ask me but what can you do.

Side note ... it is copyright (as in the right to copy) and no copywrite.

I agree, it is total bulls... It would be like recording some words over a song, or dropping some text over a movie, and then selling it as your own product. Absolute, total bulls...

Alex Cooke's picture

He's unequivocally a fraud, and history will relegate him to being a forgettable footnote who lurked in the gray area of copyright but did nothing of artistic merit. I just hope that justice is also found on the legal and financial side of this.

Pete Whittaker's picture

How does Richard Prince market himself and is there anything we can learn from it? Why is a photo, when stolen and re-branded by this "artist" something consumers/collectors are willing to pay up to $100 000 for, when the originals never command anything near that price?

I think its connections he's has in the art world, like Gagosian. Without a backer of this magnitude (and other in the scene) these hacks would have not been noted. Which makes Gagosian just as guilty IMHO. But once again connections are more important that competence - something that holds true everywhere.

Maybe we need a network of people to 'steal' artwork and profit from it this way.... LOL

Gagosian is definitely just as guilty. Gagosian sells these stolen works without any payment to the creators.

user-88324's picture

Nelson Goodman, the logician, believed that it was possible to create a "visual quote" by taking a picture of another picture.

I'm not very familiar with Prince and what he's been up to, but it looks a bit like he might be quoting an image and then commenting on it like how a writer might take a verbal quote and then comment on the verbal quote in a written editorial piece.

I don't see this as a problem. Richard Prince just needs to sell a few more 'enlarged prints' and that should cover the cost of attorneys/court proceedings and perhaps an out of court settlement. He'll be fine and back to creating 'art.'

Peter Timmer's picture

The fact that he posted this on his own Instagram and added the text portrait of Kim Gordon creates the suggestion that he made this Photo.

No matter what you do a photograph will always be a photographers intellectual property, and therefore you cannot put your own name on someone else's image. This is according to Dutch Law, i don't know about much about American law but i think it would not differ far from it.

I think what he's doing is very wrong, not only does he steal the image, he also crops it which is also (where i live) forbidden without consent of the Photographer.

I hope this guy gets what he deserves.

Jonathan Brady's picture

How ironic would it be if a copycat killer targeted this guy?

even though everyone thinks richard prince is a thief, you are giving him free publicity to his work and now thousands of people searching his stuff. How bout don't share this article? stop giving this guy the light of day?

Jack Alexander's picture

I'd rather folk knew of him and what he does, since I'm guessing those who buy his 'work' are unsuspecting and have no idea the images have been stolen. I'd be surprised if anyone went from reading this article to buying something of his.

Anonymous's picture

Actually, everyone in the art world knows exactly who he is and what he is doing. He's been doing it for 40 years. His most famous works are rephotographs of Marlboro men ads from the 70s with all the text cropped out. His art is not about the photograph, but rather the concept of ownership, agree or disagree.

"Rephotograph" is artworld BS. It's just Orwellian doublespeak. It's a way to tell a lie and make it sound true. A photograph is a thing. A "rephotograph" is not a thing. What a "rephotograph" is in truth is an unlicensed, unpaid, illegal use of another creator's work. "Rephotograph" is just the devious rebranding of crude and ugly copyright infringement. Anyone with common sense knows it's wrong. But the wealthy in the art world decided it was OK to screw photographers out of their work because it made them a handsome profit. This is just vile exploitation — a symptom of photography being treated as a low class art that the powerful can steal at will.

Anonymous's picture

Just as legions of people photographing Yosemite from the exact vantage points that Ansel did is not copyright infringement, photographing a magazine page is arguably not copyright infringement, and therein lies the key to his work. It's hard for people who have a rigid view of what art is (prints on a wall for instance) to imagine it, but nonetheless exists and rail against it at your pleasure: it feeds on that.

You're very confused about this. Copyright does not protect a photographer's "vantage point" anywhere. It protects the photograph from unauthorized duplication. Thus photographers don't go around the world claiming exclusive rights to vantage points everywhere. "Oh that's MY vantage point; you're not allowed to use a camera there! Or there! Or there!" If that were true, much of the Earth would be off limits to photography because someone else had already photographed from the same spot. By contrast, copying a photo in a magazine, or on Instagram, is exactly that: copying. The difference is clear. Besides that, good luck trying to capture Ansel's exact weather at Yosemite or clouds over Hernandez, etc.

Anonymous's picture

Not confused at all - the difference is in the method of copying. That's why I used the word arguably. The transformative nature of the reproduction is what Prince relies upon for the courts to rule in his favor.

How bout an article calling on creators to find a balance and fight for what the real problem is! there is a loophole in the Free use law that allows this guy to use others work.
for starters..
lets learn about this law
who it effects?
what are the boundaries?
how it effects you, your business, your IP?
what actions can be taken to let this guy not steal from others?
what will we lose if that action is changed?

The fair use exception is so students can use quotes in their book report, or critics can use quotes in their reviews. It's not to allow some rich dude to steal your entire work, without authorization or payment, and sell it under his own name with some drek he added as "commentary" or to make it "transformative".

Anonymous's picture

Fair use is far, far more than that. Scholarly research, news reporting, etc. Further "Additionally, “transformative” uses are more likely to be considered fair. Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work." That is what Prince works with.

Dan Howell's picture

Like many photographers and original image creators, it is enraging to follow this story. What I find a bit interesting is that Prince has not 'derived' work from major photographers, especially those who are represented by the same gallery. I just don't think I will have any respect for his process unless/until he is accepted or respected by photographers who have the clout to fight back.

David Apeji's picture

I just wonder how much personal security he has.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Maybe someone should strap a camera to a .50 cal rifle and 'photograph' Prince through his front window.

Anonymous's picture

Richard Prince has been doing this for 40 years and is well versed in the intricacies of copyright law. Fair Use is a general concept that is decided on a case-by-case basis, and he hinges his work on the transformative definition. And, as a reply to Thuy Vu, there is no set amount you can just "change" a work by and be safe. They determine based on intent. Everyone who wants to know more about Fair Use should read this:
http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html

Anonymous's picture

Before anyone else says something like "I hope people find out who he is" or "I think the people buying his work don't know", please read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Prince

Richard Prince has been doing this longer than some of you have been alive, and his technique is the copying of material from other artists. Whether you agree or disagree doesn't really matter to him - his first works got more than $1 million in 1975.

Better to use this space to discuss ownership of art rather than whether he's going to be found out as a fraud, because that question has already been answered. (And they said an MFA was worthless!)

marc gabor's picture

I think everyone here is missing the point. Richard Prince is a conceptual artist, not a photographer. His art is not about imagery but about perspective and social commentary. Appropriation and re-contextualization has been a central theme of his art since the 1970's.

To say he is a fraud is to miss the point. He is an original. His name is synonymous with the appropriation of images. I don't think anyone buying his work is under the impression that he took any of the original images.

The screenshot of his Instagram juxtaposes the weight and timelessness of classic black and white studio portraiture with social media which is inherently impermanent and consumed on small screens.

In the 70's he photographed cigarette ads that utilized iconic cowboy imagery to draw attention to the beauty of the image and the way it is used to propagate consumerism. The works question what is real and what it means to be a real cowboy.

The (original) portrait of Kim Gordon is a fantastic image but as a piece of art it probably appeals to fans of Kim Gordon and black and white celebrity portraiture. The Richard Prince screenshot of his Instagram account probably appeals to collectors of contemporary art who appreciate contemporary and conceptual art.

Taking a screenshot is a natural evolution of his work which started out with him "re-photographing" images from advertising campaigns. I think it's interesting that he has gone from shooting film to taking screenshots as this transition parallels the changes in the way people capture images and the mediums through which we view them.

I understand why people have such strong feelings about his art and I don't always like it myself. But isn't that one of the tell tales of good art? That it evokes a strong reaction and stokes conversation? To simply right him off as a fraud and a hack is to misunderstand his place in the history of art.

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