Legal Rumble Over the Definition of “Limited Edition”

PDN has published an interview with art collector Jonathan Sobel, who’s suing photographer William Eggleston for creating and selling new prints of iconic photos that were once sold as “limited edition” prints. The new prints that recently fetched $5.9 million at auction were digital prints that were larger than the original ones.

The dispute boils down to this question: If an artist produces and sells a limited edition of a photographic work, and then re-issues the same image in a different size, or in a different print format or medium, does the re-issue qualify as a separate edition? Or do the new prints breach New York law that defines “limited edition,” and therefore defraud the buyers of those original limited edition versions of the work?

The answer could have a significant effect on the photographic print market. A number of photographers issue limited editions of their works, then later issue new editions of the same works, reprinted at different sizes or in different mediums. The reason is obvious: When an edition sells out, and scarcity drives up the price, artists want to cash in on pent up demand.

Sobel, who has spent 10 years studying and collecting Eggleston’s work, claims that eight of his prints that were previously worth $850,000 have been devalued by the recent sale.

Q&A: Art Collector Jonathan Sobel Explains His Beef with William Eggleston (via The Click)

  • Gary Simmons

    It has always bothered me that photographers seem to play fast and loose with the ‘Limited Edition’ label.  That label seemed to mean something in the art world, where a limited edition print of a painted was definitely limited to the known run.  

  • Andrew

    Jeez, just call them second editions….that way the first would still hold price…problem solved!!

  • BullsEye

    And that photo sucks btw…

  • Dennis Marciniak

    Often wonder this as I have sold out of a limited edition print and have had to turn away customers because the editions were sold out.

  • Andrew

    Please post a link to your own work,you can enlighten us all with images that dont ‘suck’..

  • Thefinalsound

     Absolutely right Bullseye, too bad there’s not a colorful sunset in the background, or a cartoonish HDR sky going on. Either of those things would have made this image pop more, you know give it stronger impact and cultural significance. #sarcasm

  • Suman0102

     If this photograph was taken by an unknown person, I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t get the respect or financial value that it has now.

  • Damianmonisvais

     At the time he was an unknown person. And its not just one photo but a large series of photographs from before 1973 show at the MOMA, the tricycle just being one of the most famous of that show representing the SERIES. Eggleston and many other photographers from all genres don’t define them self to one image but to there style and ideas that the work represents.

  • Hlvegemite1

    The art world is no better. A limited edition of 50 then another 50?+ of artist’s proof! Check any print auction for the percentage of A/P v edition.

  • Michael

    It would be an interesting to see the outcome how this lawsuit plays out, especially in today’s digital art massive reproduction capabilities this lawsuit can change the entire game…

  • Crocea Mors

    How true. If this is an art then my four years old girl is a super artist.

  • limited edition prints

     Unsolved Puzzle to me

  • Thomas Hodges

    Michael, there seem to be some very uneducated comments herein. Many people are not familiar with the world of photographic fine art, and as a result they obviously find it difficult to comprehend the subject matter.

  • Thanasis Maikousis

    William Eggleston can do whatever he likes with his work, even print it on mugs. This is why I did not buy any of his work so far :)