Why Copyright Is A Matter Of Perception (Richard Prince Edition)

When I first posted the article "Why Copyright Is A Matter Of Perception" in 2012, I had some real-world connection to this topic. Today I resurrected this post because of a certain circumstance.

Something happened that shaked up the internet and Instagram community by large; The Richard Prince Issue.

It has proven that my post about copyright from 2 1/2 years back was not only correct, but there is even room for amendments. Who would have guessed that?

This post is a personal analysis about art theft and does not reflect any legal advice.

The issue at hand is that an artist called Richard Prince has sold screenshots from other people´s work on Instagram for as much as $90.000 each. Article here. 

SG goes on price war with R.Prince over ripped off artwork

The short of it would be to say the artist is a troll or douchebag, a total jerk. But that would be too shortsighted. In my opinion this is all part of a campaign, this guy uses every word against him in his favour, how is this possible?

To grasp the underlaying mechanics it is necessary to understand how the market works. In the illustration market you use to have a certain amount of skills to become recognized and famous. The fine art market has nore in common with a stock market. Collectors are investors driven by consultants who have more in common with brokers than anything else.

But stealing other peoples work is wrong don´t the collectors know?
They know this will be a unique event and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to buy something like this from that particular artist. He has evidence that this is something no one else has done before. The internet proves it for him.

But it is bad quality.
That does not matter, it is all about the idea, the concept and the braveness of the artist, the momentum.

What if he got sued?
The collectors love risks, buying from artists like Prince bear a certain risks but a lot potential for future divestments, such as buying risky stocks. No risk no fun.

Is it fair use or transformative?
I would say neither nor. The thing is that our technology and time is changing at such a fast pace, it is even possible that a "screenshot" of a webpage from today can be declared as capturing a zeitgeist. Another option would be citation, since he not only ripped the images but also the names and accompanying commentary as well. Fair use can apply because crediting of the name (and therefore promotion is given). Everyone could sell the images for the same price too, even the copyright owners. It is even transformative, but that factor is low, I would not count on it on court.

When I read about such situations, I try to get into the perspective of the person in question and want to see what they are thinking about, what are their objectives? In the case of Prince it is totally clear that the internet and instagram turmoil was planned. He used any critique and turned it into free promotion. Heck, even if he would not have selled anything it would be great promotion.

I´m really interested to see where the price war between Suicide Girls and Prince goes. Basically they use the hype for promotion, turning all benefits from sales into a donation for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I don´t believe it does any harm to Prince nor his collectors.

For Suicide Girls it can be a win-win-situation. If you can look at it this way, there is always a way to benefit from such events.

What would you do?

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Oliver aka Fantasio is a creative blogger who likes to share his insights about art, marketing and social media. Follow Fantasio on twitter or facebook


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