A Prince who steals your instagram photos

by M.Byford on Juin 19, 2015 - 4:07pm

What constitutes Art is a complicated subject to define to begin with; but when artists begin to appropriate other peoples work the lines become even more blurred. This issue has recently been brought to light within social media when a man by the name of Richard Prince appropriated other peoples Instagram photos, without their knowledge or consent, blew up the images onto to portraits and then with minimal editing (nothing was done except the addition of a sentence to look like he had ‘commented’ on the photograph), he sold these images for upwards of 90’000 dollars. This has left the population divided on privacy and ownership rights on content within social media websites and on appropriation in general, is it right to use other peoples images as your own for personal gain? If it morally justifiable for an artist to use social media in this way and profit from the works of others? Is it morally acceptable to profit from the effort of others under the guise of artistic appropriation?

On one hand people can argue that the use of appropriation in art has been one used for decades, and is continuously seen today it from the forms of collage, but the struggle remains with how much someone has to edit or alter an image to make it a piece of art. Richard prince has been re-photographing for decades, he tiptoes on the edge of copyright infringement and in most cases comes up winning as long as he can prove he had artistic input and their pieces were transformative. (contrera) Many argue that once an image is posted on the internet or Instagram in general it is available for public use. Although, after checking in with the Instagram help center Instagram claims that whoever takes and posts the photo holds onto that photos rights (although without procuring a copyright license this won’t do much).  Coinciding with the common saying that once something is posted on the internet it’s there forever.

On the other hand this many are speaking out and saying what Richard Prince is doing is immoral, this man is profiting off the ideas and pictures of others, sometimes selling a person’s Instagram selfie for upwards of 90000, an action which has recently been contradicted by an Instagram group called the suicide girls who retaliated by selling the same portraits of prince but instead for 60$. (Needham)


Deontology vs. teleology

To look at this issue from the teleology/utilitarian perspective what he does could be considered a morally good action, since the outcome of his actions is art which is considered the creation and distribution of an object which can cause many to experience the higher pleasure of viewing and appreciation of artworks. Prince’s actions are also not doing any harm to anyone as although the persons who he appropriated the photos from didn’t gain anything from his actions they also didn’t lose anything.

However, on the deontological perspective prince, actions are immoral, if one was to use the universal maxim of stealing being wrong, or wrongfully gaining from the works of others. Prince is using others work for his own personal gain, the action itself regardless of the outcome is immoral. Although, appropriation has been used in artwork for decades it has to be used in a transformative way, to be used as a piece of the artist’s work and not the artist trying to pass off the work as their own.

To solve this moral dilemma following deontology what prince is doing is morally unjust, the use of other peoples works would be okay if he gained their permission, and the use of appropriation can be justifiable but the work needs to be transformed to the extent where it can justifiably be called an entirely new work of art in and of itself.



"Instagram Help Center." About Copyright. Web. 18 June 2015.

Kwong, Matt. "Richard Prince, Instagram 'ripoff Artist,' Has Own Art Appropriated - Arts & Entertainment - CBC News." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 9 June 2015. Web. 18 June 2015.

Munro, Cait. "Richard Prince Instagram - Artnet News." Artnet News. Artnet Worldwide Corporation, 27 May 2015. Web. 18 June 2015.

Needham, Alex. "Richard Prince v Suicide Girls in an Instagram Price War." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 27 May 2015. Web. 15 June 2015.

Contrera, Jessica. "Your Instagram Photos Aren't Yours: Someone Can Sell Them as Art for $90,000." National Post Your Instagram Photos Arent Yours Someone Can Sell Them as Art for 90000. National Post, 26 May 2015. Web. 17 June 2015. 

Image, url: http://perspectivedaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/prince1.png

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