… and just who owns what?

Photograph of a photograph sold for over $1 million USD in 2005!

Toronto. George Dunbar has been fascinated with copyright laws for years. On August 9th, he sent me an email link to TIME magazine’s 100 photos and in particular one of a cowboy by Richard Prince. Have a look at the TIME web site and the short videos there.

The issue of ownership is especially sensitive to professional photographers, as their photographs are their bread and butter, generating funds to cover costs and offer some profit. Who owns a copy of a photograph? Who should own the copy?

TIME magazine states, “The idea for the project that would challenge everything sacred about ownership in photography came to Richard Prince when he was working in the tear-sheet department at Time Inc. While he deconstructed the ­pages of magazines for the archives, Prince’s attention was drawn to the ads that appeared alongside articles.

“One ad in particular caught his eye: the macho image of the Marlboro Man riding a horse under blue skies. And so, in a process he came to call ­rephotography [wikipedia suggests a different definition of the term here], Prince took pictures of the ads and cropped out the type, leaving only the iconic cowboy and his surroundings. That Prince didn’t take the original picture meant little to collectors. In 2005 Untitled (­Cowboy) sold for $1.2 million at auction, then the highest publicly recorded price for the sale of a contemporary ­photograph.

“Others were less enthusiastic. Prince was sued by a photographer for using copyrighted images, but the courts ruled largely in Prince’s favor. That wasn’t his only victory. Prince’s rephotography helped to create a new art form—photography of photography—that foreshadowed the era of digital sharing and upended our understanding of a photo’s authenticity and ownership. “

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