A reminder that your Instagram photos aren’t really yours: Someone else can sell them
Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The Internet is the place where nothing goes to die.
Those embarrassing photos of your high school dance you marked “private” on Facebook? The drunk Instagram posts? The NSFW snapchats? If you use social media, you’ve probably heard a warning akin to “don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your employer (or future employer) to see.”
We agree, and are adding this caveat: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want hanging in an art gallery.
This month, painter and photographer Richard Prince reminded us that what you post is public, and given the flexibility of copyright laws, can be shared – and sold – for anyone to see. As a part of the Frieze Art Fair in New York, Prince displayed giant screenshots of other people’s Instagram photos without warning or permission.
The collection, “New Portraits,” is primarily made up of pictures of women, many in sexually charged poses. They are not paintings, but screenshots that have been enlarged to 6-foot-tall inkjet prints. According to Vulture, nearly every piece sold for $90,000 each.
How is this OK?
First you should know that Richard Prince has been “re-photographing” since the 1970s. He takes pictures of photos in magazines, advertisements, books or actors’ headshots, then alters them to varying degrees. Often, they look nearly identical to the originals. This has of course, led to legal trouble.
In 2008, French photographer Patrick Cariou sued Prince after he re-photographed Cariou’s images of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community. Although Cariou won at first, on appeal, the court ruled that Prince had not committed copyright infringement because his works were “transformative.”
In other words, Prince could make slight adjustments to the photos and call them his own.
This is what he did with the Instagram photos. Although he did not alter the usernames or the photos themselves, he removed captions. He then added odd comments on each photo, such as “DVD workshops. Button down. I fit in one leg now. Will it work? Leap of faith” from the account “richardprince1234.” The account currently has 10,200 followers but not a single picture – perhaps so you can’t steal his images in return?
“New Portraits” first debuted last year at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, the same location where the artist displayed the Rastafarian images he was sued for.
Knowing that more legal action is unlikely, Prince appears to be enjoying the attention. He has been re-tweeting and re-posting his many critics.