Prince of Appropriation faces fifth lawsuit over another Instagram portrait

Artist Richard Prince has found himself in hot water yet again over accusations of copyright infringement.

On 16 November fine art photographer Eric McNatt filed suit against Prince in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. McNatt claims Prince infringed the copyright in his black and white portrait of Kim Gordon, the lead singer of alternative rock band Sonic Youth. 

According to the claim, Prince took a photo of the picture using his Instagram account when it appeared in Paper Magazine’s September 2014 issue. He added three captions, cropped the top and bottom of the picture and enlarged it as an inkjet print for display in his ‘New Portraits’ exhibition in Blum & Poe’s Tokyo gallery in 2015. The work was also offered for sale on the online art marketplace Ocula.

This is the fifth lawsuit filed against Prince in relation to his unauthorised use of artists’ works. In 2011, Patrick Cariou fought and lost his copyright battle against Prince and in December 2015 Donald Graham filed suit for Prince’s reproduction of his photograph ‘Rastafarian Smoking a Joint, Jamaica’ in another Instagram portrait. The decision on Prince’s motion to dismiss Graham’s suit is pending in Manhattan federal court. Further claims brought by makeup artist Ashley Salazar and photographer Dennis Morris in California were dismissed in August. It is understood they will be refiled in New York.

According to McNatt’s claim, Prince ‘copied and reproduced’ his photograph ‘wilfully and knowingly’ and without ‘seeking or receiving permission’. He argues that Prince is an ‘‘appropriation artist’ notorious for incorporating the works of others into artworks for which he claims sole authorship’. McNatt’s complaint also quotes an interview given by Prince to Russh magazine in which he said Cariou’s lawsuit had helped Prince to sell what was otherwise a “very unsuccessful body of work”. Alleging that Prince’s work usurps the market for his portraits, McNatt is suing for permanent injunctive relief and damages.

For his part, the ‘#PrinceofAppropriation’ is defending his work on the ground of fair use. His lawyer, Josh Schiller, argues that Prince is fighting for this principle to the benefit of “many, many artists”.

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