Appropriation artist found to have infringed copyrights after failing to show transformative use
By Matthew Becker – Edited by Chinh Vo
Cariou v. Prince, No. 08 Civ. 11327 (DAB) (S.D.N.Y. March 18, 2011)
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In a closely watched copyright case, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, Patrick Cariou, ruling that the appropriation artist Richard Prince, in conjunction with the Gagosian Gallery, infringed Cariou’s copyrighted works.
The Southern District held that Prince’s works, paintings and collages that incorporated significant portions of Cariou’s published photographs, were not entitled to defense under the doctrine of fair use. Most relevant in this analysis was a consideration of the purpose and character of the use, with a focus on whether Prince’s works were “transformative,” requiring that they “in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to the original works.” The court concluded from Prince’s testimony that he did not have an interest in the original meaning of Cariou’s photographs, but simply wanted to reproduce them to send his own message, and therefore the transformative content of his works was “minimal at best.”
The NYT Arts Beat provides an overview of the case. The Art Law Blog criticizes the decision for its narrow interpretation of transformative use, noting that other cases, such as Blanch v. Koons, 467 F.3d 244 (2d Cir. 2006), have found works to be transformative even when they did not comment directly on the original copyrighted work. (more…)