Sid Litigious: The Forgotten Richard Prince Lawsuit

screenshot of Sid Vicious in the complaint from Dennis Morris LLC v Prince et al, 2016

What was going on in 2016 that I missed an entire Richard Prince copyright infringement lawsuit? It makes no sense!

Well, it kind of makes sense, because it lasted for about five minutes before it was withdrawn, and it never reappeared.

A few months after Donald Graham and Eric McNatt filed lawsuits over their photos appearing in Prince’s Instagram-based New Portraits, photographer Dennis Morris sued because Prince had used several of Morris’s images of punk rocker Sid Vicious in various works without permission. The case, Dennis Morris, LLC v. Prince, No: 2:16-cv-03924-RGK-PJW [pdf], was filed in the Central District of California against Prince, Gagosian Gallery, and their imagined accomplices.

As these screenshots show, Morris claimed Prince got his portrait of Vicious from Malcolm McClaren, on the cover of the musician’s biography. And then he used it without permission in such works as this autographs piece above. Which a lawyer took money from Morris and included in the lawsuit, even though 1) the book was obviously not the source of the image, and 1) the artwork is clearly made of actual 8×10 autographed prints that Prince acquired and combined.

Morris’s complaint also claims Prince used other of his images of Vicious—the source is not specified—on a collaged work called Covering Pollock.

Richard Prince, Covering Pollock, 2011, a painted collage on photo cited in Dennis Morris’s 2016 complaint

In fact, there was a whole Covering Pollock series, with grids of checkbook-sized images on paper of musicians affixed on enlarged photos of Jackson Pollock by Hans Namuth, which were shown at Guild Hall in East Hampton in 2011. It’s not clear where Prince got his images, but whether he cut up a stack of fan magazines or xeroxed them, there’s no way these aren’t fair use. Morris would have had an easier time suing a teenager over the Sex Pistols shrine on his bedroom wall.

But we’ll never know, because defendants successfully argued California was not the right jurisdiction, and Morris withdrew the case, with a promise to refile in New York. I don’t want to jinx it, but that has not happened yet.

Previously, related:
The Second Deposition of Richard Prince
Untitled (Re-Graham), 2016