Cariou v. Prince tests the meaning of “fair use”

NPR report examines the legal issues around artist’s “Canal Zone” collages

In 2008, artist Richard Prince came under fire for his use of another artist’s work within his own. In a piece he created, Prince took dozens of photographs from a book by Patrick Cariou, titled “Yes Rasta,” cut them up and positioned them among other images, including guitars and naked women. He called the series of paintings “Canal Zone,” which his gallery sold for $10 million.

Not surprisingly, Cariou filed suit, claiming copyright infringement. And last year, a judge found in Cariou’s favor. Prince appealed the ruling, and a federal court in New York is set to hear that appeal next week.

"What the court missed unfortunately in the trial court level with Richard Prince," Virginia Rutledge told NPR, was "the work that he has made using imagery including some from Patrick Cariou's photographs says something different, something new." Rutledge, a private practice lawyer and former Creative Commons GC, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Andy Warhol Foundation in support of Prince.

But Kirkland & Ellis Partner Dale Cendali disagrees. "If you rip out photographs from somebody else's book, put some paint on them and sell them for $10 million, it does seem to most people—and to the law—that there should be some consequences," she told NPR. Cendali filed an amicus in the case on behalf of the American Society of Media Photographers, supporting Cariou.

According to the NPR report, it’s rare for fair use lawsuits like these to make it to court. So it’s no surprise the art community is watching this one closely. But if the lower court ruling stands, some fear it could have implications even beyond the art world.

Read or listen to the entire report on NPR.

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