Richard Prince to Pay Photographers Over $650,000 In Copyright Lawsuits

Eric McNatt’s photo of Kim Gordon (left) and the appropriated work by artist Richard Prince (right)

Artist Richard Prince has agreed to pay at least $650,000 to two photographers in a pair of long-running copyright lawsuits against him for using their images in his controversial Instagram-sourced New Portraits series.

For his New Portraits series, Prince appropriated images from users on Instagram, but he also used images that belonged to professional photographers without permission — selling them for up to $100,000 each.

Donald Graham’s photograph of “Rastafarian Smoking A Joint” (left) and the appropriated work by artist Richard Prince (right)

In 2016, photographer Donald Graham sued Prince, accusing him of violating the copyright on his 1998 image “Rastafarian Smoking A Joint”.

A few years later, photographer Eric McNatt filed a second copyright infringement lawsuit against Prince, concerning the artist’s use of his portrait “Kim Gordon 1” which showed the co-founder of the band Sonic Youth posing in a white t-shirt.

Graham’s image was incorporated by Prince into a work referred to as “Portrait of Rastajay92,” which was exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2014. Meanwhile, McNatt’s image was used in a work referred to as “Portrait of Kim Gordon,” which was shown at Blume & Poe Gallery in Tokyo in 2015.

‘A David vs. Goliath Matter For The Art World’

However, on Thursday, the long-running copyright disputes came to an end after two judgments were filed in New York which awarded damages to the two photographers and barred Prince from reproducing the photographs known as “Rastafarian Smoking a Joint” and “Kim Gordon 1.”

Prince and his galleries, Gagosian and Blum & Poe reached a settlement in the two copyright lawsuits brought by Graham and McNatt.

According to The New York Times, 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 and costs incurred.

David Marriott, a lawyer for Graham and McNatt, told The New York Times that 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.”

‘No Admission of Infringement’

Meanwhile, Prince’s studio manager Matt Gaughan said that the photographers decided to settle with Prince, who “adamantly refused to admit infringement,” shortly before their cases were set to go to trial.

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.

“After 8 years of litigation while making 8 figure demands for damages and the additional requirement of Richard admitting infringement [the plaintiffs] approached us on the eve of trial to settle for cents on the dollar and no admission of infringement,” Gaughan says in an emailed statement to ARTNews.

“We’re very happy with that. This settlement allows Richard and all of the artists to move forward with their practices.”

According to ARTnews, Prince, who rose to fame for creating altered versions of the work of other artists, has argued that his practice is protected by fair use exceptions to federal copyright protections, which allow the limited appropriation of intellectual property for purposes such as scholarship, news reporting, and commentary.

When he was questioned about the appropriation controversy with the photographers in 2016, Prince told Vulture: “I’m not going to change, I’m not going to ask for permission, I’m not going to do it.”

Image credits: Photos via court documents.