As we’ve reported in our coverage of photographer Patrick Cariou’s infringement claim against Richard Prince, Prince and his defenders argue that appropriation art does little harm to individuals from whom appropriation artists steal their raw materials. Their implied question: Where would civilization be without the great works of appropriation artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg?
Credit The Art Newspaper, a British publication, with taking on that argument. Yesterday they reported that Warhol, Rauschenberg and other big name appropriation artists quit stealing the work of others–and started getting licenses instead–after they got sued once or twice (or five times) for infringement.
“There is growing evidence—albeit rarely reported—that, although these artists may have started out as willing or unwitting outlaws, they decided that possibly infringing other artists’ copyright was legally unwise and potentially expensive, and they stopped,” writes Laura Gilbert for The Art Newspaper.
She reports that Andy Warhol faced lawsuits in the 1960s for unauthorized use of photographs by Patricia Caulfield, Fred Ward, and Charles Moore. He settled the claims out of court, and afterwards started asking for permission before incorporating works by others into his own creations. “He learned a lesson from the lawsuits,” Warhol’s gallerist, Ronald Feldman, told Gilbert.
Robert Rauschenberg was sued in the 1970s for unauthorized use of one of Morton Beebe’s photographs. After settling the suit in 1980, Rauschenberg reportedly quit appropriating the work of other artists. Jeff Koons, another appropriation artist who was famously sued (and lost) over the “String of Puppies” sculpture he copied without permission from a photograph, no longer uses the work of others without permission, his lawyer told The Art Newspaper.
Gilbert cites other examples, too. The message is that former art pirates with big names weren’t above the law, after all, and when they were sued into compliance, it wasn’t the end of appropriation art, much less civilization.
Richard Prince has already been held liable for infringement by a federal trial court judge. His appeal is pending. A victory for Prince, it seems, would put him in a special class of pirates with immunity, pretty much by himself.