By: Lauren Ali

Three years ago, artist Richard Prince caused one of the biggest stirs in the art world with his exhibition entitled, New Portraits. In the project, he screenshotted and printed Instagram posts of celebrities and random teenagers that he then proceeded to sell for $900,000 a piece. Prince has been known in the past for violating previous copyright laws by reproducing other artists work but this project really created a stink. Perhaps it was the fact that the pieces sold for $900,000 and these people in the photographs who originally posted them on Instagram got no credit or portion of the sale. Or maybe because the project lacked creativity and Prince selectively printed sexualized photographs of women while adding unsettling comments underneath them. In all fairness, some people who had their images blown up were simply flattered by having been noticed by the photographer and to have been featured in the exhibition. However, this whole situation leads back to the main issue of copyright.


Instagram’s copyright laws state:


“Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 (“Sharing of Your Information”), 4 (“How We Store Your Information”), and 5 (“Your Choices About Your Information”). You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy.”

In a nutshell, it means you have the right to what you post on Instagram and you own the copyright to those images. It also states that by choosing to post on Instagram, you do not surrender your rights and ownership to those photos and anyone wishing to copy or reproduce them requires your permission. Although, it is also important to note that when you post content on the platform that it is solely your content or you have obtained the permission to post it.  


Initially, Prince didn’t alter the physical image at all besides deleting some comments and adding his own caption underneath it. Some could argue he didn’t appropriate the entire image since he changed the comments so it wasn’t the exact same image as before. It’s difficult to dictate what does and doesn’t qualify as copyright since it is so simple to get around the already established but rarely followed laws. When in doubt or fear of having your working being stolen, remember to upload the images at a lower resolution and add watermarks over the content. Certain websites can prevent the copying and pasting of images unless they are given proper consent by the artist. If you want to repost or reproduce, remember to contact the artist asking for their permission first! It is hard to remain truthful and original with the work that people are producing nowadays with social media circulating images every second of every day, who is to say they didn’t think of an idea first? But remember, being an artist has many challenges so it’s important to respect your fellow person and their work.

What do you think of Richard Prince’s controversial exhibition? Do you believe that what he did was an appropriation of art or he was simply taking advantage of an opportunity? Let us know below!