Copyright Blog – Cariou vs. Prince


Patrick Cariou’s Yes, Rasta (2000), and Richard Prince’s Canal Zone (2008)

       French Photographer Patrick Cariou published a book of black and white portraits of Rastafarians called “Yes, Rasta.” A couple years later Richard Prince, “an appropriation artist” (3) publishes a series of collages called “Canal Zone” and used several dozen of Cariou’s Rastafarian portraits, without his permission. In the case, Cariou vs. Price, Cariou claimed copyright infringement. In 2011 Cariou won the case, stating that the changes made by Prince did not fall under fair use, the judge believed the newly appropriated images made by Prince were not significantly different and did not change the meaning of Cariou’s original artwork. Unfortunately for Cariou this case quickly became a battle of modern contemporary art and what appropriation entails. Prince appealed under the Fair Use exception in the US Copyright Act claiming his series falls under the transformative exception. In 2013, the Appellate court agreed, and Prince won the case.

Something odd that stood out to me in this case was that, “The judges found that twenty-five of the thirty paintings were transformative; five pieces were sent back to the district court for reëvaluation.”(3) With this ruling in favor of Prince there becomes a small area of hope for Cariou where some of Prince’s appropriations are thought to be not transformative. Thus allowing Cariou to petition the US Supreme Court to view the ruling, but they quickly denied. The responsibility to decide whether an artist is imitating or inspiring is a difficult one. In most court cases it comes down to the judges ruling and what they believe is considered fair. As mentioned in Boyle, Jeff Koons, a very well known and established modern appropriation artist, has lost many court cases due to the same issues of the fair use exceptions. This issue goes all the way back to the beloved Andy Warhol and his silk screenings, even Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made sculptures.

“”It’s the classic ‘painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and printmaking,’ ” he said. “And when they define sculpture, they define it as casting, carving—very traditional, conventional terms. And the whole point of the avant-garde was to do away with that.””(3) Having an artist’s opinion, this quote mentioned in the New York Times article couldn’t be more accurate. The avant-garde became the stepping-stone in art history to push the boundaries and break-free from the norm, thus recreating the rules as an artist. There is now a finer line on what is considered original art. There are the clearly original pieces of artwork seen in galleries, or unseen created by students or as hobbies, that no artist has attempted before, but then there are variations of the same idea from a different artist, who may not have had the knowledge of art history, or that their work has already been imagined and created.

Art is the visual expression of a human’s imagination, and the human imagination has no boundaries. Therefore, I agree with the Appellate court’s final decision, that Prince’s appropriations fall under Fair Use. “Appropriation art is, by now, a venerable tradition in modern art.”(2) There have been numerous cases relative to Cariou vs. Prince and I believe that transformative art is now a large part of the art society. It has become mainstream in today’s culture. New and upcoming artists are only going to push the concept even further just as artists have done so in history. We like to break the rules and push theboundaries. The imagination as a visual represents our emotions and our relativity to the world. It is meant for enjoyment, but what is our world these days without a little greed.


Works Cited

(1) Ellison , Kaitlyn. “5 famous copyright infringement cases (and what you can learn).” Designer Blog RSS. 99designs, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <>.

(2) Hunter, Dan. The Oxford Instructions to U.S. Law Intellectual Property. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2012. Print.

(3) Mauk, Ben. “Who Owns This Image?.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <>.




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