What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is… mine

…or at least that’s what some people believe.

A Manhattan court ruled last week that artist Richard Prince violated copyright law when he created his own art by modifying the photography of Patrick Cariou.  Mr. Prince took photographs published by Mr. Cariou in a book in 2000, without permission, and modified them in some pretty extreme ways.  Here’s an example – I’ll let you determine which is the before and which is the after.

Patrick Cariou, Richard Prince

Mr. Prince’s work had been displayed and sold in a prominent gallery, which was also found to have violated Mr. Cariou’s copyright.  The judge ruled  that all of Mr. Prince’s work be impounded and destroyed.  Damages are yet to be decided.  And anyone who had purchased any of this art would not be allowed to display it.  Ouch.

This story was reminiscent of artist Shepard Fairey, who created the “Hope” poster of President Obama, which was very widely seen during his 2008 campaign.  You undoubtedly saw this image, as I did on a trip to Provincetown on Cape Cod in 2009.  I spotted a faded version in a shop window and was struck by the irony of the message on the (intentionally placed, I’m sure) hat next to it.

Obama, Hope, Out of Coffee

Like Mr. Prince, Mr. Fairey appropriated a photograph taken by Mr. Mannie Garcia, who took the image for Associated Press in 2006.  Eventually, Mr. Fairey admitted that he “had based the poster on the AP photograph and had fabricated and destroyed evidence to hide the fact”.   I’d say it was pretty obvious:

Garcia to Fairey

Source: Wikipedia

What’s interesting here is that the Hope poster was immensely popular and has oft been imitated, unlike Mr. Prince’s more recent creations.  And in fact, Mr. Garcia, the original photographer of the President, even said he liked the Hope poster, but he did not “condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet.” Mr. Fairey and Associated Press settled out of court in January of this year and announced that they will share the rights of the poster going forward.

So we have two artists, who similarly created work based on the photography of others, and based on the belief that they could.  But they differed in that one artist’s work was widely acclaimed and will live on, while the other’s was ordered to be destroyed.

I share this story this with you for two reasons:

The first is to demonstrate how easily (and frequently) photographs can be appropriated by others.   In a future post, I’ll share information about protecting your work through copyrighting, watermarks, creative commons, etc.

But the second reason is to ask your opinion – if someone takes a readily available image and changes it into another image – is that wrong if they attribute the original photographer when presenting their new derivation?

Have you had an experience where your work was used by someone else, with or without giving you credit? (I did, without credit).

Thanks for your input, and for visiting 2 Guys Photo.                  –  Posted by Ed


About Ed Spadoni

www.2GuysPhoto.com "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
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7 Responses to What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is… mine

  1. Kara Stewart says:

    Very interesting, Ed. I guess my thoughts are that maybe it depends. Maybe it is on a case by case basis and how much the photo has been personalized to/by someone else? But then again, it would make me angry if someone took one of my images, altered it and then made money off of it and all of that. Probably even if they listed a credit to me. The first one in your post, the Prince one, that seems to me a pretty blatant use of someone else’s image. Almost like he was making fun of it or doing a grown up version of drawing a mustache on pictures. That would irritate me if I were the original artist, even if credit were given. The second one is a bit more murky to me since the original image is more altered (and maybe since it doesn’t strike me as making fun of the original image or subject like the first one does, although I realize that shouldn’t have anything to do with it). The second one wouldn’t tick me off if I were the original photographer, but I would have appreciated being asked permission and being given a line of credit.

    Interesting thoughts and I appreciate you bringing this to our attention.

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      I agree with you Kara – it doesn’t seem like such blatant “theft” if the original photog is given credit, but it’s still wrong. l also agree with you on the nature of Prince’s “art”, but I use the term loosely. Thanks for folowing our blog Kara, Ed

  2. Donna McCommon says:

    Ed, being a musician, I have seen composers or arrangers who have taken an original piece of music and made changes. However, they obtained permission from the owner of the copyright. I have a friend who used the same text as another composer, by accident, and the publisher would not publish his piece because of details such as this. We do have music that is in public domain and that can be edited more freely. Many are guilty of making changes in music but credit must be given to the original composer and copyright obtained. All this being said, I guess it boils down to were whether the original photographs copyrighted. If so, certainly written permission should be obtained to alter the photos. I feel like you and Kara, if someone else took my work and made money from it, it would not make me happy.

    • Ed Spadoni says:

      It’s interesting to get a musician’s perspective Donna. It looks like we’re all in agreement on ownership. Many people don’t realize that you own the copyright as soon as you press the shutter, regardless of whether you register the work or use a watermark. More on this in a future post. Thanks Donna.

      Ed Spadoni

      Via iPhone

  3. arthill says:

    It is just plain wrong to take a photograph that isn’t yours and use it without the original photographers permission, whether you alter it or not. I’ve had plenty of people ask me for permission to use a photo, or alter it, or create a painting from it.
    I’ve also had people steal my photographs and think that by giving me credit they have somehow made everything okay.
    If I steal your car but always drive it with a banner that says “this car used to belong to Ed Spadoni”, are you okay with that?
    Theft is theft. If I took the photo, it belongs to me. I own the copyright regardless of whether I have done any formal paperwork.

  4. Rodney Daly says:

    Oh what a slippery slope. Just curious, if someone does a painting of a photograph and sells it, is that still theft? Or if someone takes a photograph of a painting and sells it, is that theft? What if you take a photograph of the inside of a museum, and there are paintings in your photograph, but not the point of your subject… is that theft? If you take a photograph of a person (street photography) and don’t get their permission to publish the photo… is that theft of identity? I don’t know the right or wrong answers to these questions and I don’t do photography as a living, just curious about other’s thoughts.

    thanks for the informative blog and keep up the great work.

    Rodney Daly

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