Richard Prince to Pay Photographers Who Sued Over Copyright

The artist Richard Prince agreed to pay at least $650,000 to two photographers whose images he had incorporated in his own work, ending a long-running copyright dispute that had been closely monitored by the art world.

Two judgments filed on Thursday in New York awarded damages to the photographers, Donald Graham and Eric McNatt, and barred Prince from reproducing the photographs known as “Rastafarian Smoking a Joint” and “Kim Gordon 1” (of the musician Kim Gordon).

Those images were part of a Prince installation, called “New Portraits,” in which he printed several Instagram photos on large canvases and added his own Instagram-style comments below them.

Graham’s image was incorporated into a work referred to as “Portrait of Rastajay92,” which was exhibited at a New York gallery in 2014. McNatt’s image was used in a work referred to as “Portrait of Kim Gordon,” which was shown at a gallery in 2015.

David Marriott, a lawyer for Graham and McNatt, said the photographers were pleased with the judgments and called the cases “a ‘David vs. Goliath’ matter for the art world, and a story of principle and perseverance.”

Matt Gaughan, Prince’s studio manager, said that the artist “adamantly refused to admit infringement” and had “agreed to settle over eight years of costly litigation for a tiny fraction of what trial alone would cost.”

The resolution of the cases comes eight months after the Supreme Court ruled on a major copyright dispute that asked whether Andy Warhol’s use of a photograph in his work was considered fair use. Many experts had thought the ruling would have a spillover effect on the Prince cases. But the court’s 7-2 decision against Warhol was narrowly tailored and did not offer guidance about how much of another work an artist can copy.

The photographers suing Prince argued that he had reproduced so much of their copyrighted work that it could not be considered fair use. The trial over McNatt’s lawsuit had been scheduled to begin on Monday, and Graham’s case had been set to go to trial next month.

Prince’s lawyers said the two sides had negotiated judgments under which the defense would agree to pay $200,000 to Graham, $450,000 to McNatt and $250,000 in other costs. (The judgments, signed by Judge Sidney H. Stein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said damages were “an amount equal to five times the sales price” of the photographs.)

Marriott said the judgments showed that copyright law still provided meaningful protection to creators and that the internet was not a copying free-for-all.

“There is not a fair use exception to copyright law that applies to the famous and another that applies to everyone else,” he said.

Susan C. Beachy contributed reporting.

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