The Prince and the President’s Daughter: A Tale of Contemporary Art and Copyright Law
McCutcheon, Jani and McGaughey, Fiona (eds), Research Handbook on Art and Law (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2020): 77-94
Posted: 29 Apr 2020
Date Written: January 1, 2020
Richard Prince, the infamous litigant-artist, recently made headlines by disavowing a commissioned Instagram portrait of Ivanka Trump. Taking to Twitter just days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Prince tweeted of the portrait of the president-elect’s daughter: ‘This is not my work. I did not make it. I denounce. This fake art.’ Quite apart from its witty appropriation of Donald Trump’s declaratory mode of address, the utterance claimed to effect immediate legal consequences. In his own Searlian speech act, Prince combined the language of copyright’s moral rights doctrine and the supra-legal authority afforded him by his cultural cachet. This chapter examines the conditions that enabled Prince to make this audacious attempt at disavowal, namely, the social and legal prioritization of a particular notion of the originator author. There is, however, a troubling inconsistency in Prince’s self-proclaimed authority over the portrait. By claiming to have the power to disavow the work Prince is endorsing exactly the orthodox and monolithic notion of authorship that his whole career has been dedicated to undermining. This chapter will set Prince’s rhetoric around the Ivanka Trump portrait against his numerous other entanglements with copyright law – most famously in the Prince v Cariou litigation – to argue that Prince represents a new type of author. A self-proclaimed copier who nevertheless claims his copies to be originals, Prince is, in the final analysis, an author whose work is only attributable to him by virtue of the fact that he says he made it. Prince has succeeded in writing himself into legal and cultural narratives as both a brazen infringer of the traditional rules of copyright law and a beneficiary of the legal apparatuses protecting the originator author. Attending to Prince is important, not just for what he can tell us about the Law’s struggle to comprehend contemporary modes of authorship, but for how he illustrates Law’s deep but subtle influence on our ideas of what an author should be.
Keywords: art, appropriation, copyright
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