Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

One of Dennis Morris's photos of Sid Vicious that is the subject of the photographer's lawsuit against Richard Prince (screenshot by the author via Scribd)

One of Dennis Morris’s photos of Sid Vicious that is the subject of the photographer’s lawsuit against Richard Prince (screenshot by the author via Scribd)

Music photographer Dennis Morris is suing artist Richard Prince and his gallery, Gagosian, for copyright infringement. The lawsuit, filed Friday in California, accuses Prince and Gagosian, among other charges, of “making derivative works” and “producing and distributing large scale reproductions incorporating those derivative works” based on Morris’s photos of Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious. Morris is seeking a juried trial and demanding, among other damages, all of Prince and Gagosian’s profits from sales of the disputed works.

In the lawsuit, Morris accuses Prince and Gagosian of “diversion of trade, loss of income and profits, and a dilution of the value of [Morris’s] rights.” The complaint also alleges that Prince used Instagram to promote the work for sale and includes a screenshot of a post (since deleted) on Prince’s Instagram account featuring one of Morris’s best known photos of Vicious.

A since-deleted post on Richard Prince’s Instagram page featuring one of Dennis Morris’s photos of Sid Vicious (screenshot by the author via Scribd) (click to enlarge)

“This new lawsuit continues to raise the as-of-yet unanswered questions concerning contemporary art practices, globalization, and digital media,” art lawyer Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento , who originally posted a link to the lawsuit on his blog, told Hyperallergic via email. “Of notable interest, if not curiosity, is how the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in ‘advertising activity’. One could probably say that we may be nearing a time when art and commercial creations are viewed as one. How this will impact ‘artists’ in the traditional meaning of the word is still to be seen.”

The two works at the center of the lawsuit are an untitled piece that combines four black-and-white photos of celebrities — among them a photo Morris took of Vicious and that appears on the cover of David Dalton’s biography of the musician, El Sid, Saint Vicious — and an older work from Prince’s Covering Pollock series. The latter, which debuted in a 2011 exhibition at Guild Hall, consist of Hans Namuth‘s famous photographs of Jackson Pollock working in his studio, which Prince painted and collaged with other photographs, partially concealing the image of the AbEx painter. One work from the series features a repeating grid of three Morris’s photos of Vicious. Prince and Gagosian, the complain concludes, “have obtained direct and indirect profits they would not otherwise have realized but for their infringement of [Morris’s] copyrighted [work].”

Hyperallergic reached out to Gagosian for comment, but received no response.

Prince, his gallery, and his dealer Larry Gagosian were sued by another photographer, Donald Graham, in December. That case revolved around one of the works in Prince’s Instagram-sourced New Portrait series. Another of his photographic appropriations was the subject of one the most protracted and closely watched copyright infringement cases in recent memory, brought by photographer Patrick Cariou (and settled out of court in 2014).

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested that Sid Vicious was the frontman for the Sex Pistols, but he was the bass guitarist. We apologize for this error. God save the Queen.

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

7 replies on “Photographer Dennis Morris Sues Richard Prince Over Sid Vicious Images”

  1. I’m glad to see somebody going after this guy. Collages, “sampling,” reworking comic book art a la Lichtenstein, all, regardless of quality, seem like “fair use.” This doesn’t. In my opinion.

  2. this is absolutely not “fair use”. A professional artist like Prince should know better. but since all publicity is good publicity, maybe he thinks controversy will keep his name in the pantheon.

    1. He does know better, but because he is a big name artist with a massive gallery behind him he knows he can usually get away with it.

  3. When he was starting out Prince was punching up at mainstream media and advertising. Now that he is famous and out of real ideas he is constantly punching down at less-famous, less-wealthy, less powerful artists.

  4. If the best you can do is simply copy something else, then you’re clearly bereft of ideas. Hang it up, Prince.

  5. Taking fine art photographs from living artists and reselling them for vast sums is just wrong.
    Fine artists who do this need to understand that, just like buying paint, canvas, and other materials, they need to pay for images. Just like books and magazines do. Buying licences of images is not new and not a big deal. So why should any of them get a pass on that but, if they steal paint from a retail art store, they get jail time?
    There are now more images, easily accesed, that anyone can licence, then ever before.

Comments are closed.