Richard Prince, who has pushed the legal limits of artistic appropriation for decades, will continue to fight for his art in court. This week, a federal judge in New York refused to throw out a photographer’s lawsuit against Mr. Prince over Mr. Prince’s use of an image in an exhibition. The case will continue, and could set a precedent for how the fair-use doctrine relates to Instagram, the photo-sharing app.
In 2014, Mr. Prince presented an installation called “New Portraits” at the Gagosian Gallery, in which he printed various Instagram photos on large canvases, and added his own Instagram-style comments below them. The show led to a backlash, including from the photographer Donald Graham, whose photo “Rastafarian Smoking a Joint” was featured via a print from another user’s Instagram account. Mr. Graham first filed a cease-and-desist order against Mr. Prince, and then a lawsuit in 2015.
Mr. Prince, the Gagosian Gallery and the gallery’s owner, Larry Gagosian, asked the court to dismiss Mr. Graham’s case, arguing that Mr. Prince’s work was transformative. But on Tuesday, the United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein challenged that premise, writing: “The primary image in both works is the photograph itself. Prince has not materially altered the composition, presentation, scale, color palette and media originally used by Graham.”
The lawsuit will serve as a follow-up to a case brought against Mr. Prince by Patrick Cariou, whose photos of Rastafarians were used by Mr. Prince in collages and paintings. The United States Court of Appeals decided largely in favor of Mr. Prince, but left an ambiguous precedent for determining fair use. Four other lawsuits have been filed by other photographers whose work was used in “New Portraits.”
Mr. Prince responded on Twitter: “Phony fraud photographers keep mooching me. Why? I changed the game,” he wrote on Wednesday. His Instagram account, which previously had over 70,000 followers, is currently disabled.
Earlier this year, Mr. Prince made headlines for returning a $36,000 payment for a work that depicted Ivanka Trump. “It was just an honest way for me to protest,” he said.