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Sustainable Prospects – Whose Image is it Anyway?

Considering the issues surrounding the copyright of images published on the internet, we have looked at one of the most significant cases of recent times.  This is the case involving the claim of French photographer Patrick Cariou against Richard Prince and his gallery, Gagosian, for copyright infringement.

Personally, I do not have too many issues with Prince using the work of others in a different context.  Throughout his career, Prince has continually pushed the boundaries of ownership of photographs.  He has used rephotography and appropriation to alter the original context of the images. He takes the work he has appropriated and alters it to give a new meaning or message.

Historically, art has built upon that which came before and this, it could be argued, is exactly what Prince has been doing. I do, however, sympathise to some extent with Cariou and his unhappiness that the image was used without his permission.

Whilst others have issues with the apparent lack of specific purpose for the transformation on Prince’s part, it should be remembered that there is no legal requirement for Prince to explain or defend his use of the images (although this may have made the legal process easier)

However, Cariou also needs to be realistic.  In today’s digital world, the transformation of work is easily facilitated. It is so difficult to control how everyone else not only views your image but how they may use it in the future.

So how does this affect my blog?

The work did get me thinking about my blog.  I have used images throughout the blog content that illustrate my arguments or that show the inspiration for my own work. I have researched the implications of this.

Key points about copyright are that:-

  1. copyright is applicable as soon as the original work is created.

  2. copyright is an automatic right and does not require the author to do anything special.

So, under normal circumstances, the images cannot be reproduced without express permission from the owner of the images.  However, exceptions to this are covered in the Fair Use doctrine.  The purpose is to allow for limited and reasonable uses as long as this does not affect the owner’s rights.

In terms of a blog, just linking back or attributing the image to the creator is not enough. However, in terms of this blog, the law includes exceptions that allow the use of all types of copyrighted material including images.

The exceptions only apply if the following conditions are met:-

  1. the use is non-commercial

  2. there is sufficient acknowledgment of the author

  3. the use is fair

Under the terms of the law, it is ok for me, as a student, within the ‘Fair Use’ doctrine to use images within the context of my educational blog.  I cannot, however, make photocopies of the images for other people. This applies to all kinds of teaching including the flexible distant learning journey that I am on.

With that in mind, I am meticulous about referencing and accrediting each image, quotation, and source that I use.

Final Thoughts

If the work were completely re-contextualised like the way in which Jeff Mitchell’s photograph was misrepresented in the UKIP campaign,  I would probably feel very different and lodge a complaint as a first step. (However, I am aware that Mitchell had no control over the use of his image as he is employed by Reuters who sold the image, as they do with all images, with no control over intent.). The lesson I take from Mitchell’s experience is to never sign over my copyright.

If my published work was appropriated and used in ways that stripped it of context in a similar way to Cariou’s, I would feel quite flattered that my work had been inspirational to another person.  I would expect credit to be given to the source.  If no credit was given, I would contact the person directly myself, rather than use lawyers though. I would, however, expect some form of remuneration for the re-appropriation and use of my work.


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