Artist Sells Screenshots of Others’ Instagram Pics for Around $90,000 Each

Several weeks ago, artist Richard Prince displayed and sold his newest collection, “New Portraits,” at the Frieze Art Fair in New York. The collection was filled with giant, 6-foot-tall screenshots of Instagram pictures taken by complete strangers—some famous and some not—people whom he had never met nor sought permission from. By the end of the night, only one portrait remained. The rest had sold for around $90,000 each. Someone else took the pictures, and Prince changed nothing about them except for the size and the captions. But the artist may not have violated anyone’s copyright. This is because when someone changes copyrighted image to a certain degree, it becomes a “transformative” work. Prince, who is well known for his transformative works that often look very close to the original works, may have changed the Instagram pictures just enough to assert his own copyright claim over them.

One woman who was told that her image was included in the collection posted a photo of her photo and the following message: “Figured I might as well post this since everyone is texting me. Yes, my portrait is currently displayed at the Frieze Gallery in NYC. Yes, it's just a screenshot (not a painting) of my original post. No, I did not give my permission and yes, the controversial artist Richard Prince put it up anyway. It's already sold ($90K I've been told) during the VIP preview. No, I'm not gonna go after him. And nope, I have no idea who ended up with it! #lifeisstrange #modernart #wannabuyaninstagrampicture.”

If one of the Instagram photographers sues Prince, it wouldn’t be the first time. Prince famously prevailed in a 2008 lawsuit brought by French photographer Patrick Cariou after Prince made slight adjustments to Cariou’s images of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community. For instance, in one photo, Prince simply added four blue ovals to a man’s face and put a blue-shaded electric guitar cut-out image in his hand. In that case, an appellate court found that Prince’s adjustments were sufficiently transformative.

Instagram says users still have ownership over their photos, but as this collection proves, it might not take much for someone to repurpose your photos for their own use. You never know where your selfies might end up.


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