I don’t want to get on a jag about copyright infringement here, but a lawsuit filed this week against Ryan McGinley illustrates how copyright can potentially impinge artist’s creative expression if taken too far.
Artist Janine “Jah Jah” Gordon has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against photographer Ryan McGinley for copyright infringement, arguing that 150 of McGinley’s photographs, including several used in an ad campaign for Levi’s, a co-defendant in the suit, are “substantially based” on Gordon’s original work.
There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in this case as Janine and Ryan have both shown at the Whitney and several prominent galleries where Janine says he had “access to view and examine” her images. Additionally, when ArtInfo.com contacted Janine (here) she says she has been begging McGinley to stop copying her work since the 1990’s through dealer and close friend Chris Perez. Also, noted was an incident according to the complaint in 2003, when she ran into him at a PS1 opening and he responded with “a fearful gasp and speedy retreat into the crowd.” Like I said, it’s very emotional. McGinley’s prints also sell for 4 times the amount of his older more established counterpart.
The complaint alleges that he copied her subject matter, lighting, composition and ideas:
There’s no doubt in my mind that seeing Ryan McGinley come up on your heels and churn out similar looking images would be a painful experience. But, this is where copyright hurts photographers. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before so if you’re not allowed to draw inspiration from and take little parts of other photographers and artists work there’s nothing to take pictures of. I think the case will be impossible to prove in court, but I would guess the point is not to win but to raise awareness, get him to stop and go somewhere else for inspiration.