Famous appropriation art maker Richard Prince was sued for mildly transforming 41 Patrick Cariou photos from the Yes Rasta book and using them for his Canal Zone exhibit at the Gagosian gallery in 2008. He just lost his “fair use” argument. The judge decided Prince’s work was just too derivative of the original.

US District Judge Deborah Batts has ruled Prince’s series to have “no message,” hence not transformative enough for “fair use” and in violation of the copyright laws. It can’t be shown again and the defendants have to “deliver up for impounding, destruction, or other disposition, as Plaintiff determines, all infringing copies of the photographs, including the paintings and unsold copies of the Canal Zone exhibition book” and any other image materials for reproducing “infringing copies.” The Prince case is a big yey for photographers’ rights… not so much for appropriation artists.

Since Shepard Fairey settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and indentured servitude “collaboration” with the AP, we’ve been lacking closure. Is there an aesthetic scale for “fair use” in the eyes of the law? When taking on copyright cases, can any judge become a fair art critic? How did this judge do?