Richard Prince and the Instagram explosion

I’m sure by now you have gotten some kind of word regarding the most recent Richard Prince scandal. Mr. Prince took photos from Instagram, enlarged them and then sold them for up to $100,000. Richard Prince has a long history of re-appropriation. He most notably took Marlboro adds removed the company logo and advertising information and them published the works. Some of these prints sold for $1 million dollars. Other artists with similar results have done this many times before. One very notable artist was Andy Warhol. Mr. Warhol however changed the context and turned them into his own idea. On a suggestion from a friend Warhol brought people items they saw in everyday life in a new and interesting way. Using a silk-screen process to bring us everyday items was new and out of the box thinking. Not only was it out of the box thinking it gave us a little piece of the artist without even knowing it. When Warhol’s mother was sick and in the hospital for several weeks he fondly remembered being feed a bowl of Campbell’s soup daily and ran with it. Was there a copyright violation in his works of art, I personally believe so if he had not employed such an unconventional method for producing the work. With the reproduction of the Marilyn print you got her any way you desired. Don’t like the blue Marilyn then choose the yellow, or maybe the green. Mass reproduction with an imperfect method created slight variances in all of the pieces and made them one of a kind works of personalized art.

In the case of Mr. Prince I don’t see any new or interesting way being used to produce of display the work. He is just stealing the images and using his popularity to get away with copyright violation. I would really like to see some big law firm grab onto this pro bono and run him through the ringer. I don’t believe this will happen and if it did it could go either way. Some judges may determine this to be "fair use", you can never tell. Even if Mr. Prince was found in violation of copyright it has been stated that the owners of the photos would not receive much money from the endeavor. All Richard Prince is looking for is just what he is getting, which is a lot of press. On a similar note I personally caught someone printing my work on huge posters a few years ago and selling them for something like $15 to $30 a piece. From what the printing company told me he we was doing very well at which point I identified myself as the creator of the work. I told them I would be sending them proof of my copyright as well as a letter from my attorney and they promptly hung up on me. Within minutes all of his work had been removed from their website and I sent him a DMCA letter just to let him know I was watching him and was the reason his store and income had been dissolved.

Theft of images is so commonplace now and I don’t really see a means of getting away from it. I guess as an artist you could chose not to post your work and live in a cave only coming out every few years for some fresh air but where is the fun in that. I used to watermark my photos but on the suggestion of my mentor I stopped. Even before his suggestion I felt it ruined the images even if I have a cool logo. Theft is going to happen, we just have to learn to accept it. When we become aware of it don’t blow a gasket just simply send the person a DMCA letter with a threat of further legal action if something is not done about it. In closing I would like to quote Andy Warhol in his response to a reported that asked why he re-appropriated someone else’s work, “It’s easier that way.” That is the facts of life folks. 

Thanks for your time,

JW Purdy