The copyright troll making millions
It’s been called genius trolling by some and exceptionally vapid by others. Richard Prince has pushed the boundaries of copyright infringement since the 1970s and managed to turn appropriating content into a successful career. Last year he sold inkjet printouts of other people’s Instagram photos for up to $100k.
At his latest exhibition, “New Portraits”, at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, Prince displayed 38 portraits featuring screencaps from Instagram. Among the prints were images of models and celebrities, including Pamela Anderson and Kate Moss. Underneath the picture Prince had left a comment sharing his thoughts, such as “No Cure, No Pay”. Artnet comments that “Like a true troll, Prince always gives himself the last word.”
Figured I might as well post this since everyone is texting me. Yes, my portrait is currently displayed at the Frieze Gallery in NYC. Yes, it’s just a screenshot (not a painting). No, I did not give my permission and yes, the controversial artist Richard Prince put it up anyway. It’s already sold ($90K I’ve been told) during the VIP preview. No, I’m not gonna go after him. And nope, I have no idea who ended up with it! #lifeisstrange #modernart #wannabuyaninstagrampicture
One of the portraits featured in the exhibition is taken from Doe Deere’s Instagram account. Her portrait was sold for $90,000. Deere, who has around 300k followers on Instagram, writes that she never gave Prince permission to use to photograph, but won’t take any action over the usage.
Appropriation has been a thing in the art world since Warhol started producing images of soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. But few artists have garnered as much attention as Prince. Should photographers be worried? According to Artnet appropriation will only appeal to a small niche with vested interest.
“Copy-paste culture is so ubiquitous now that appropriation remains relevant only to those who have piles of money invested in appropriation artists. The work on canvas looks about as good as you’d expect for a tiny, 72 DPI image, which is to say they are fuzzy and better viewed on a phone. There’s no apparent rationale for the sequencing of the installation,” Artnet writer Paddy Johnson comments.
Prince, who is a controversial figure in the art world, began appropriating photographs in 1975. His first “rephotograph”, Untitled (Cowboy), sold for more than $1 million at Christie’s in New York in 2005. The original photograph was taken by Sam Abell for a cigarette ad.
In 2008 Prince was sued for copyright infringement by the photographer Patrick Cariou. Prince had used 35 of Cariou’s photographs in his work. In 2011 the court ruled against Prince and found that the use of the images had not been fair use. Two years later the ruling was overturned by the court of appeals and the case was settled in 2014.
During the court case Prince said that copyright had never interested him until then, because not many had paid attention to what he was doing.
“So sometimes it’s better not to be successful and well known and you can get away with much more. I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn’t matter because no one cared, no one was paying any attention. It was an attitude to do with the fact that I didn’t think there was a future,” Prince said.
Images via petapixel.