Photographer Dennis Morris filed a copyright infringement claim last week against appropriation artist Richard Prince in a Los Angeles federal court. The claim is the latest in a growing number of cases filed by photographers accusing Prince of stealing their photos for use as raw material for his artworks.
Morris, who is based in Los Angeles, is charging Prince with unauthorized use of several photographs of Sid Vicious, the lead singer of the Sex Pistols. Gagosian Gallery, which represents Prince, is also named as a defendant in the case.
Morris alleges that Prince copied the Sid Vicious portraits without permission from a biography by David Dalton titled El Sid, Saint Vicious. Prince then made and sold “derivative works” that incorporated the portraits, Morris says in court papers. The derivative works allegedly included an untitled quadtych featuring one of Morris’s Sid Vicious portraits alongside portraits by other photographers of Barbra Streisand, Prince (the recently deceased musician) and Sylvester Stallone.
In addition, Morris alleges that Richard Prince used several other photographs of Sid Vicious without permission in a work from a series titled “Covering Pollack.” Prince created the series in 2010. The allegedly infringing work (above) shows a photo of what appears to be a Jackson Pollack painting-in-progress, papered over with a collage of Sex Pistols band member photos, including Morris’s pictures of Sid Vicious.
Morris is seeking compensation for an unspecified amount of damages resulting from “diversion of trade, loss of income and profits, and a dilution of the value” of rights to the photographs. He is also seeking disgorgement of profits from the sale of the infringing works, and an injunction to bar further unauthorized use of the photographs in question.
Prince has not yet responded to Morris’s lawsuit.
Morris’s claim is strikingly similar to the high-profile lawsuit that photographer Patrick Cariou filed against Prince—and lost. Cariou had accused Prince of misappropriating images from a book called Yes, Rasta. Prince used the Cariou images as raw material for a series called Canal Zone. He and Gagosian earned more than $10 million on the sale of works from that series.
In 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled that most of the disputed works in the Canal Zone series qualified as fair use of Cariou’s photographs because Prince transformed them with “an entirely different esthetic.” Prince was forced to settle with Cariou over the unauthorized use of several of images, however.
Although Prince will almost certainly invoke the Cariou ruling in his defense against Morris’s claim, rulings from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals are not binding in the Los Angeles court, which is in the Ninth Circuit.
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