Art imitates Instagram

Illustration by Griffin Leeds
Illustration by Griffin Leeds

Artist Richard Prince took the public profile aspect of social media to the extreme this month when he decided to print super-sized screenshots of stranger’s Instagram posts by ink-jet printing them on canvas without the user’s permission. The canvases were then displayed at an upper crust art gallery in New York, and each was sold for around $90,000.

The subjects of the photos were predominantly females posing in provocative manners. Prince skidded around copyright laws by deleting captions and adding in his own comments under a username with a 
photo-less account.

In a way, Prince simply re-grammed — in real life —­ these individuals’ public Instagram posts. But even so, his stunt caused a stir across the public.

Are the comments Prince added enough for him to call these re-printed photos his own “artwork?” The camera taking the photo was not in his hand, and his finger did not push the post button, yet he is the one to whom the highest bidders wrote their checks.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a way for the subjects or Instagram users to sue Prince for his actions. Since he printed the screenshots, the photos became outside the normal realm of Instagram’s jurisdiction, which can only be regulated if something is wrongfully re-posted on their app.

The Internet has become absent of consent. There is no easy way to prevent stealing from happening, whether it’s music, movies, photos or even words. There is so much out there on the web; it’s nearly impossible to regulate things like this from happening.

Sharing photos isn’t conducive to privacy. We pride ourselves on the 100th like of our Instagram post and the amount of people who commented on our Facebook profile picture. We share things simply for the desire to be heard or seen by like-minded individuals.

Once something is posted, it is no longer yours. It belongs to everybody else, including Prince.

Prince didn’t even warn the people behind the usernames whose photos he was using. Although this is morally unjust, it isn’t legally unjust. This man made an exorbitant profit off 
of others’ hard work no matter how you look at it.

In response to the gallery photos, SuicideGirls, an account responsible for several of the original Instagram photos Prince lifted, decided to make some art of their own. In a post on their home website, founder Missy Suicide said, “If I had a nickel for every time someone used our images without our permission in a commercial endeavour, I’d be able to spend $90,000 on art.”

She also stated it was unfortunate that the subjects and photographers of the pieces couldn’t enjoy the artwork due to the inability to purchase something so expensive.

Missy Suicide then announced, “SuicideGirls are going to sell the exact same prints people paid $90,000 for $90 each. I hope you love them. Beautiful Art, 99.9% off the 
original price.”

On top of this kindness, all of the profits made will be donated to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation that works for the protection of Internet users’ rights and freedoms.

Morally, this is fantastic, and legally, this is absolutely fair game. It just goes to show. Sometimes ritzy, high-priced art is nothing but stolen goods.

This article was originally published as an editorial for the Indiana Daily Student on 31 May 2015.

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