Posted on 13 April 2012.
Richard Prince's appropriation of Robert Cariou's photo.
HOST INTRO: When does someone else’s photo suddenly become your own? One artist takes images from a photography book, changes them and integrates them into his own painting. It’s called appropriation art. So when does this violate copyright? It’s a big issue in the world of high-priced art, and, as Andrew Parsons reports, an upcoming court case could have an effect on how art galleries do business.
There are photographs all around Penelope Umbrico’s Brooklyn art studio–on the walls, strewn on tables. She sorts through hundreds of prints of sunsets.
SOUND: Umbico showing reporter her photos –
Umbrico: Often there’s piles of 4 by 6 snapshots that are left over from installations Reporter: These are other people’s photos?
Umbrico: Well, they’re all from other people’s photos, yeah
Umbrico is an appropriation artist. She gets her photographs from Flikr. The images are copyrighted and she uses them without permission to makes collages. But Umbrico takes everything but the sun out of the pictures – the people, the beaches, the ocean, everything. The result looks like a colorful, patchwork quilt.
ACT Umbrico 2 (:08)
You would not be able to tell if these are your suns because these are very small fragments of larger sunset images. I’m just taking the sun.
This is a legal principle called ‘fair use,’ Under certain conditions, it allows you to alter someone else’s copyrighted property so it becomes yours. Because Umbrico alters her material so much she’s safe from any lawsuits. However, in a case before the courts, the issues aren’t as clear cut. Richard Prince is a famous appropriation artist who sells his work for millions of dollars. A court ruled last year that his use of a photographer’s image of a rastafarian community violated copyright. The photographer, Patrick Cariou, claims that in one case Prince altered his photograph very little. His lawyer is Daniel Brooks.
ACT Daniels (:16)
He sent it to a commerical lab to have it enlarged and scanned onto a canvas, added blue paint over the man’s eyes and mouth and inserted into his hands a guitar. And that’s what he did.
In fair use, you must transform the meaning of an art piece by commenting on or satirizing it. Prince admitted that he didn’t want to do that, he was just using the photos as objects. Daniels claims that in addition to using material without permission, Prince also undercut an opportunity for Cariou to make money.
ACT Daniels (:15)
There was going to be an exhibition of Mr. Cairou’s photographs at an art gallery. When the gallery owner found out these paintings were being shown she decided to cancel or not go forward with the show.
Others disagree. Attorney Michael Rips, who represents artists in copyright cases, thinks that the court was wrong in the Prince case. He says Prince shouldn’t have to engage with Cariou’s work. Prince used the photos as objects – something many artists do. Rips and many in the art world worry that the ruling could set a dangerous precedent.
ACT Rips (:12)
It’s real precedent because this question hasn’t been addressed and there’s lots of artists who are using other people’s work as raw material as a opposed to engaging.
What also makes this case different is how it affects art galleries. In the ruling last spring, the gallery which sold Prince’s series was found to be an accomplice to Prince’s crime.
ACT Rips 1 (:09)
The district court is imposing upon galleries and museums a duty to inquire as to the source the imagery that artists use.
Museums would have to employ extra staff to determine if all works are within copyright law. In practice, it means they would avoid displaying works from those artists. That is the argument that a dozen museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenhiem made in an amicus brief to the second court of appeals. The court takes up the appeal in late May. Attorney Michael Rips hopes the appeals court rules in Prince’s favor, but he admits Prince should have been more careful.
ACT Rips (:14)
If you’re just using another artist’s work because it’s aesthetically effective, I think you need to be and probably should be very careful about doing that.
The art world will be watching to see just how careful it’ll have to be.
Andrew Parsons, Columbia Radio News