Photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s studio says the Smithsonian Institution violated copyright of her 1993 portrait of Prince last week by distributing the image to the media without permission. The musician died April 21, and the following day, the Smithsonian displayed a print of Goldsmith’s photograph at the National Portrait Gallery’s In Memoriam space. The museum notified the media that the portrait could be “photographed or filmed in the museum.” It also made a digital copy of the image available to the media for download on the Smithsonian website.
EPA, AP, AFP and Getty distributed images and/or video of the portrait hanging in the gallery. Various news organizations published the wire service photos and video, but a search of Google images turned up few online copies of the downloadable image.
Rachel Simon, who is the license director for Goldsmith’s studio, says the national gallery violated copyright by allowing others to photograph Goldsmith’s image, and by distributing it as a download. The studio sent a cease and desist notice, and by April 26, the Smithsonian had stopped making the image available as a download. Now the two parties are in discussions about damages.
“We feel financial restitution is necessary to resolve [this], for as you can imagine, that image cannot be licensed for any fee ever again as it has been released WORLDWIDE for free in some cases,” Simon told PDN via email.
Simon said she had spoken with Smithsonian attorney Lauryn Guttenplan about the matter, adding that Guttenplan “did not seem to think this was an infringement or that any damage was caused to the value of the work!”
Guttenplan referred PDN’s request for an interview to Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas, who said, “There are discussions going on between the photographer and her representative and the Portrait Gallery director so we have nothing to report right now.”
Simon did not specify the amount of restitution that Goldsmith is seeking, but said, “one would hope that the Museum which honors the contributions of artists would want to resolve [this] amicably.”
Simon says the Prince portrait displayed by the museum was originally sold to collector (and record producer) Jimmy Iovine, who donated it to the Smithsonian. The print was sold to Iovine with the written stipulation that Goldsmith retained copyright, and that the print could not be “published, copied, televised, digitized, or reproduce in any form whatsoever.” The terms of the sale also stated the the print “is intended solely and exclusively for your personal viewing enjoyment.”
[Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that Goldsmith has brought her attorney into the matter. Her studio says that is not the case. We regret the error.]