Panel of judges hears oral arguments in Richard Prince copyright appeal
Neither side seems to have an advantage as three
early comments on the case Manhattan
By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 22 May 2012
Richard Prince’s appeal against last year's court decision that he had infringed the copyright of the photographer Patrick Cariou is underway. On 21 May, both sides made their oral arguments to a three-judge panel in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
In March 2011, the
district court ruled that Prince’s paintings
were not “transformative” of Cariou’s photographs and therefore did not come
within the “fair use” exception of copyright law. According to Judge Deborah
Batts, to be transformative a work must “comment on, relate to the historical
context of or critically refer back to the original works”, but Prince
testified that he did not care about the meaning of Cariou's work. New
The decision has had the art world on alert, not least because the court ruled that Cariou could destroy the unsold paintings. The paintings' future is on hold pending the appeal’s outcome.
In the hearing on Monday, Judge Barrington D. Parker said he was troubled by the potential destruction: “It sounds like something that would appeal to the Huns or the Taliban.” Cariou’s lawyer, however, said his client “doesn’t believe in burning books or anything like that… We don’t want the art destroyed”.
Neither party seemed to have an advantage in the case. Judge J. Clifford Wallace said, twice, that he thought ten of Prince’s paintings were not transformative. Meanwhile, Parker scoffed at Cariou’s argument that Prince’s actions harmed the market for his works, pointing to the different price structure:
Canal Zone works
have sold for millions, while the photographs they are based on, only a couple
thousand. “That goes against you,” he told Cariou’s lawyer, adding that the two
artists have different audiences, with Prince’s “on this side of the river”, in
Manhattan, as opposed to the cheaper Brooklyn, where books of Cariou’s photographs were sold.
Prince’s main argument in the appeal is that the transformative aspect of the series should not depend on what he initially said about his intentions, but on “whether the work adds something new” as seen by others. That spurred Parker to ask: “How are we supposed to do that?”