The New York City Bar Association’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Appropriation: Contemporary Art After Cariou v. Prince” was, as billed, “a frank discussion of fair use and artistic practice.” And it was, indeed, frank, with all six panelists speaking plainly and tough audience questions encouraged. But it was also, clouded and meandering, the way that all intellectual property discussions are.
For those who may need a refresher, Cariou v Prince, involved photographer Patrick Cariou who sued Richard Prince (the grandaddy of appropriation art, most famous for his re-photographs of cowboys and cigarette ads) for copping a wanton number of photographs from Cariou’s published collection, Yes, Rasta. Prince lost the first round and an appeal is pending.
What captured the art world’s attention, and sharpened thee focus of intellectual property (IP) law experts was the tsunami of speculation that followed the court’s very harsh decision against Prince in which he was ordered to hand over the contentious works to Cariou and to notify all current owners of the essentially cancelled series.
Was this a turning point? Would it have a chilling effect on appropriation art? What was governing these decisions? Were they out of control?