Legality in Artistic Appropriation: Copy Right or Copy Wrong?

In today’s technology saturated world, the question of artistic ownership is arising time and time again. With the Internet, social media, television, video games and countless other digital mediums readily accessible with the touch of a button, the resources available to artists in this day and age are seemingly never-ending.  Now, more than ever, the art world is caught in a flurry of controversy over the terms of appropriated artwork and the fine line between forgery and fair use.

According to ARTNews editor Barbara Pollack, “Appropriation covers a broad array of practices – reworking, sampling, quoting, borrowing, remixing, transforming, adapting – that focus on one person taking something that another has created and embracing it as his or her own” (Pollack,“Copy Rights”, 76).  Interestingly enough, the term “appropriation” is one that artists tend to reject, as most are insistent that they have transformed found images into a creation very much their own.  Pop artists, in particular, have been essential to this discourse on appropriation, shamelessly drawing from commercial imagery and openly questioning the definition of originality. However, even these famed pop artists cannot always escape the law; Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg have both had to pay other artists licensing fees for “borrowing” their imagery.

This question of artistic ownership goes back to the 1500’s, to the days of Albrecht Dürer, who sued Marcantonio Raimondi for making prints after his paintings and using his monogram.  Curator James Pilgrim states, “Today, five centuries later [from Dürer’s lawsuit], courts differentiate between that kind of forgery and appropriation art, permitting the latter if it falls under the “fair use” exception to the copyright law, that is, if it can be proved that the appropriator transformed the original material as a way of commenting on, satirizing, or criticizing the source” (Pollack,“Copy Rights”, 79).

Artistic Appropriation

LEFT: A photograph from Yes Rasta by Patrick Cariou; RIGHT: Richard Prince’s appropriation of Cariou’s image from Prince’s “Canal Zone” Series; image drawn from the Huffington Post:

The most recent controversy surrounding appropriated artwork involves artist Richard Prince, who was (successfully) sued by French photographer Patrick Cariou.  Prince used photographs of Rastafarians from Cariou’s 2000 book Yes Rasta in his “Canal Zone” series.  This series was shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2008, with the entire show bringing in around $10 million. While Prince claimed that he borrowed the images under the “fair use” exemption to the Copyright Act, the judge was not convinced.  Prince is currently in the process of appealing this decision, gaining support from organizations such as The Andy Warhol Foundation, Google, and the Association of Art Museum Directors. The results of this appeal remain to be seen, but this case has certainly drawn attention to issues of ownership and originality, bringing forth the realization that perhaps not all is fair in art and appropriation.

Information obtained from

Pollack, Barbara. “Copy Rights.”ARTnews, March 2012.



, , , , , ,

Raisonne Title

< ?php if (get_field('reference') !="") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('dimension') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('edition') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('series') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('printer') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('publisher') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

< ?php if (get_field('style') != "") { ?>

< ?php } ?>

Artist< ?php the_field('artist_name'); ?>

Title:< ?php the_title(); ?>

Reference< ?php the_field('reference');?>

Medium:< ?php the_field('medium'); ?>

Sheet Size< ?php the_field('dimension'); ?>

Edition< ?php the_field('edition'); ?>

Series< ?php the_field('series'); ?>

Printer< ?php the_field('printer'); ?>

Publisher< ?php the_field('publisher'); ?>

Style< ?php the_field('style'); ?>


To inquire about this particular artwork, please fill out the following form:
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Shipping Informatoin

Custom Packing and Insured Shipping
Expert custom packaging and insured shipping guarantees the safety of your work and the security of your investment while in transit.
We typically ship using FedEx, as they assume full insurance for door-to-door transit of your artwork. We charge actual shipping and insurance costs, plus the cost of the packing materials. We never charge a handling fee. Feel free to contact us for shipping quotes. Should you opt to use a shipper other than FedEx, we ask that you please notify us prior to shipping. Please note: shipments to California residents are subject to local sales tax.

Masterworks Fine Art Gallery schedules shipping for our clients. Works can be shipped via FedEx Ground (3-5 business days), 3-Day, 2-Day, Standard Overnight or Priority Overnight shipping. Purchases typically ship within 3 days of payment clearance. We ship daily, Monday – Friday. Special delivery arrangements can be made, if needed.


Submit Best Offer.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.