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Nail in the Coffin for Cariou v. Prince

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Richard Prince, “Canal Zone” (2008) (image via Art in America)

Richard Prince, J.D. Salinger fan and one-half of the traveling legal circus Cariou v. Prince, had the copyright charges levied against him permanently waved away yesterday by the highest court in the land. In its Tuesday session, the Supreme Court of the United States denied Patrick Cariou’s petition for a writ of certiorari, finally ending the captivating legal saga that has enriched the public discourse on notions of originality many legal professionals.

A writ of certiorari allows the Supreme Court to hear a case from a lower court, in this situation the US District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and their decision to deny Cariou’s petition for the writ effectively ends this line of litigation. The Second Circuit had found in favor of the defendant, Richard Prince, in its April 25 ruling. A similar case, 2006’s Blanch v. Koons, was also decided in favor of the defendant Jeff Koons, who argued that his appropriation of Blanch’s images was a transformative use consistent with his artistic practice. Prince’s defense against Cariou’s suit successfully echoed that reasoning, though the circuit court’s partially dissenting opinion, penned by Judge John Clifford Wallace, expressed some doubts about the court’s ability to enforce with any degree of aesthetic authority its “reasonable observer” test for transformative use.

Those interested in further belaboring the matter may want to consult the (now irrelevant) amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association in support of Cariou’s petition.

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