$90,000 Instagram prints? Philly talks fair use

WNWN editor Alaina Mabaso painted these fish last week. Now they're online: Do you have the right to reproduce them?

Richard Prince has made a career of using the work of other photographers and artists as the basis for his own works. He won a lawsuit in 2013, giving him the right to do so, but the controversy has re-erupted this year about his practice of appropriating images from his Instagram feed and selling them for $90,000 — with no payment to the artists whose work he uses.

Fair use is an ever more contentious issue in our online world. The “copyleft” movement, which releases material to be used freely as long as those uses or modifications are also available for free use, originally arose amongst the programming community, but has since been extended to written and visual works, the latter often distributed via Creative Commons. (Attentive readers of BSR image captions will have noticed the frequent appearance of Creative Commons attributions.)

Is there a difference, legally, between images published with the creator’s permission for reuse and images that, as in Prince’s works, are taken without permission? What about when an image isn’t directly taken but used as a source of “inspiration”?

Bottom line — does Prince (or any other artist) have the right to use whatever image captures his or her imagination, or does the creator of that image have the right to have his or her creation acknowledged and protected?

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Philadelphia Chapter of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. are sponsoring "Rip Off, or Fair Use?," an event to discuss these and other issues. The speakers will include attorney Nancy Wolff, artist David Graham, and Philadelphia Photo Arts Center's executive director Sarah Stolfa.

"Rip Off, or Fair Use? Does Copyright Law Adequately Protect Photography and the Visual Arts?" is coming up on Thursday, August 6, 5:30-8pm, at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, 3501 Sansom Street, Room T-145, Philadelphia. ($10 for Cultural Alliance & Copyright Society of the U.S.A. members; $20 for nonmembers.) Register here; questions can be addressed to Tracy Buchanan at tracyb@philaculture.org. (Note the change in location, originally listed as Pepper Hamilton, to Penn.)