Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Photog, OKs Reprinting of “Limited Edition” Pics


If you sell a number of prints of a photograph as a “limited edition,” should you be allowed to later reprint that photo in a different size, format, or medium and then sell the new pieces as a new edition? Apparently the US legal system believes the answer is “yes.”

A judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed against photographer William Eggleston by art collector Jonathan Sobel, who claimed that Eggleston’s decision to sell new prints of old photos hurt the value of the original “limited edition” prints.

The lawsuit was filed in April 2012 after 36 new digital pigment prints by Eggleston were auctioned off for a whopping $5.9 million.

One of the prints, a 5-foot version of “Memphis (Tricycle)” (shown above), was sold for $578,500. Sobel owns an original 17-inch limited edition print of that photo — a print that he reportedly paid $250,000 for.


“Memphis (Tricycle)” as it appeared as its original dye-transfer print

Sobel, who owns 190 of Eggleston’s photos worth an estimated $5 million (one of the largest private collections in the world), sued Eggleston after the auction, seeking unspecified damages and a ban of new prints of Eggleston’s famous 1960s suburbia photos.

Last Thursday, judge Deborah Batts of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York threw out the lawsuit, saying,

Although both the Limited Edition works and the Subsequent Edition works were produced from the same images, they are markedly different.

Batts concluded that Sobel’s limited editions would only be devalued if Eggleston created new prints using the same process (dye-transfer) they were created with. Creating new prints using a new digital process is, in Batts’ view, creating a new body of artwork.

The decision is good news for photographers who would like the freedom to reprint photos as new editions, but it may be worrisome for photography collectors who are concerned about the value of their collections being tanked by reprint-happy photographers.

(via Artinfo)

Image credits: Photographs by William Eggleston

  • DamianM

    again Please Educate your self.

    The tricycle is also Egglestons Most famous Photograph form the 1974 show at the MOMA. NO different then Van Goghs Starry night, that alot of people say their 5 year old kid kid could have painted it. But there’s is alot more in “Starry Night” just as there is a lot more in the tricycle photograph.

    And we should be flattered that Photography has gotten to this point and prestige.

  • DamianM

    Color Photography as art is still very new compared to Black and white photography. Then Photography as a whole is still very new compared to the other arts.

  • Matthew Neumann


  • Carin Basson

    That’s a good analogy, although you don’t buy a book with the understanding that it will be printed once and that’s it. If someone had bought The Lord of the Rings with the idea that only a set amount would be published, they could have objected to the second print run. Although I suspect the first editions are even more valuable because there have been 150 million copies sold.

  • Charlie

    Can we all just agree that Thewirehead is an idiot and will probably never get it? There are people who have the mental capability to enjoy one of the greatest photographers of our time and there are people who post stupid s&*t to instagram.

  • Michael Clark

    Not necessarily true. Prints of Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” made in the 1960s are generally more sought after than earlier prints made closer to 1941 when the negative was exposed. Of course Adams produced a remarkable variety in the over 1,000 prints he produced himself from the negative and many are significant because they illustrate the evolution of the process Adams used to realize the vision he had for the image.

  • Juan Alvarez

    Everybody should see some interviews of Eggelston, he doesn’t call himself a photog, and he also admits that he only keep going for the money, no other reason. I don’t consider him as a real photog, he justa was (like HE said) ‘lucky’

  • TL Dragon

    I think he’s just saying artists shouldn’t get paid to make art.

  • cocumbre

    Pure ignorance.

  • el1jones

    But what if the book was supposed to be a “Limited Edition” by an author. An author such as J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, or Stephen King. The author says, there will only be 40 printed ever. You love the author’s work and buy one, for X dollars. The next year the author says they are reprinting the SAME book, but in paper back. Fair or not Fair?

  • John792G

    I voted it down just for the sense of belonging to the group voting you down. :-) Facts are facts.

  • John792G

    Just think how mad the person who paid 500+ thousand for it is going to be if the photographer decides to Photoshop it a little in 5 years and sell it again. :-)

  • Vikas Khair