Richard Prince Accused of Unlawful Use of “Yes, Rasta” Photos

American artist Richard Prince has been accused copyright breach for using a series of photographs by the French photographer Patrick Cariou in his book Yes, Rasta (2000), where he presents images of Rastafarians and their communities in the mountains of Jamaica. Prince has been ordered to destroy works in which he 35 photos from the book. According to The Guardian, Prince’s works are worth tens of millions of dollars. Here are excerpts:

Prince adapted the Cariou works by adding, in one instance, an electric guitar and some splodges for eyes. The ruling, which may lead to an appeal, stands to cost Prince and the Gagosian, one of the world’s leading contemporary galleries, with outlets in London and New York, potentially huge sums. Eight of the works from the exhibition, which was entitled Canal Zone, have together sold for more than $10m (£6m). Seven others have been exchanged for other works of art for between $6m and $8m.

Prince has often made a virtue of his appropriation art. His images are sometimes taken from old advertisements in magazines. He told Art Forum magazine in 2003: “I had limited technical skills regarding the camera. Actually, I had no skills … I used a cheap commercial laboratory to blow up the pictures … I never went in a darkroom.”

Prince’s lawyers had told Deborah Batts, a federal judge sitting in Manhattan, that Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians, taken over six years, were “mere compilations of facts … arranged with minimum creativity … [and were] therefore not protectable” by copyright law. [. . .] But the artist admitted that he used the photographs as raw materials and intended to sell the images. He and the gallery were found to have acted in bad faith by not asking permission to use Cariou’s photographs or withdrawing them from sale when the photographer sent them notice.

The judge ruled that rather than simply adding elements to an original work, a new piece should create something “plainly different from the original purposes for which it was created”. He cited a landmark case in which the American artist Jeff Koons created an exaggerated sculpture based on a postcard of a couple with their arms full of puppies. Koons lost that case. The judgment stated: “In a number of his paintings, Prince appropriated entire photos, and in the majority of his paintings Prince appropriated the central figures depicted in portraits taken by Cariou.”

[. . .] Ahead of a ruling on damages on 6 May, Prince and the Gagosian have been ordered to destroy all the paintings and exhibition catalogues that they hold and to tell buyers that the paintings were not lawfully made and cannot lawfully be displayed.

The ruling stated: “It is clear that the market for Cariou’s photos was usurped by [Prince and Gagosian] … the court finds that Prince has unfairly damaged both the actual and potential markets for Cariou’s original work and the potential market for derivative-use licences for Cariou’s original work.”

[Many thanks to Jason Frydman for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see

For more on Cariou’s book, see

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