A New York federal court of appeals ruled in favor of famed painter and photographer, Richard Prince, this week. In a case that is relevant not only for the art community, but also for the fashion industry, the lawsuit stems from Prince's use of existing artworks, and sheds light on the transformative nature of art and on the fair use defense. Judge Barrington Parker held that Prince largely did not violate photographer Patrick Cariou's copyrights, as Prince's works were different enough, even though they were clearly based on prior works of Cariou. Prince altered and incorporated several of Cariou's photographs for a collection of his own, entitled "Canal Zone."
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Prince had sufficiently transformed the majority of the images at issue, which were taken by Cariou and published book in a 2000. The court held that Prince's work could be considered a "fair use" of Cariou's work. The judge largely overturned the lower court's ruling, which stated that Prince's art needed to comment on Cariou's work to be considered "fair use." (FYI - fair use is a defense to copyright infringement based on the notion that a work derived from a perviously copyrighted work may be transformed to the point that the copyrights stemming from the original work are not violated by the subsequent work).
Interestingly, the court noted that Cariou, who lives in Paris, has not aggressively marketed his photographs and has earned just over $8,000 in royalties from a book that includes pictures of his works, while some of Prince's "Canal Zone" artworks have sold for upwards of $2 million. According to the WSJ, the court also noted that the invitation list for a dinner that was hosted in conjunction with the opening of the "Canal Zone" show included wealthy and famous people, such as Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Jay-Z and Beyonce, artists Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and authors Jonathan Franzen and Candace Bushnell.