Intellectual property litigation may affect digital media

Richard Prince has a reputation for pushing the limits. The photographer and artist has raised the ire of other artists for nearly 40 years by appropriating their work, re-imagining it and presenting it to the New York public as his own original art. It is precisely this modus operandi that has him facing intellectual property litigation in federal court.

Prince's concept of transforming the art of other people did not impress a U.S. district court judge. The judge ruled against Prince when the photographer asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against Prince and the gallery displaying Prince's work. The photograph in question was called "Rastafarian Smoking a Joint," posted on the Instagram account of photographer Donald Graham.

To transform Graham's photograph (and those of dozens of other artists), Prince posted a comment under the image on the Instagram page and took a screenshot. He then enlarged the image to 4 feet wide and over 5 feet tall, and exhibited it in a New York gallery. He sold the transformed work for $100,000. Prince has made millions of dollars re-photographing the work of other people, and while some critics hail him as an genius, some of those whose art he transforms do not seem so enthralled.

Graham's intellectual property litigation against Prince will go forward. Some believe it may set a precedent for future interpretation of the fair-use doctrine, especially as it pertains to social media and digital art. Meanwhile, artists may wonder how to prevent their own work from being misappropriated for someone else's gain. They may find answers to their questions by consulting an experienced attorney.

Source:, "Richard Prince Back in Court", Miss Rosen, Aug. 2, 2017

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