15 Minutes on Infringement and Fair Use


I’m . This is the second of my two-part talk on Art and Copyright. In Part I, I provided a background on basic copyright principles in the U.S. In Part II, I will discuss copyright infringement and fair use, with a particular focus on appropriation art.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when there is an unauthorized exercise of any of the exclusive rights (“bundle of rights”) protected by copyright. As I discussed in Part I of my talk, the copyright owner (in the case of artworks, this is generally the artist), is entitled to a bundle of exclusive rights listed here.

Copyright infringement occurs when one violates any of these rights:

Right to reproduce;

Right to prepare derivative works;

Right to distribute copies;

Right to perform; and Right to display

What is fair use?

The fair use doctrine, which is codified in Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act, is an affirmative defense against an action of copyright infringement. Fair use protects secondary creativity as a legitimate concern of copyright. It allows a sort of breathing space for the use of copyrighted material without the copyright owner’s consent in a reasonable manner for certain purposes. Although the statute does not define fair use, the “preamble” of Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act recognizes fair use “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” These categories serve as a guide and are not a requirement. The inquiry, however, does not end here. A court must still consider the four fair use factors to make a final determination as to whether the use is fair use in light of the underlying purpose of copyright “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, as set forth in the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8.

I’ve listed the factors here, and will discuss them in more detail in a moment:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

First Factor

The first fair use factor, purpose and character of the use, considers:

  1. Whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. Whether the work is transformative (a mere photocopy is not transformative)
  3. Sometimes courts also consider whether the defendant acted in good faith or bad faith.

Influential law review article on Fair Use, by Judge Pierre Leval

In 1990, Judge Pierre Leval published a groundbreaking article in the Harvard Law Review entitled “Toward a Fair Use Standard.” Judge Leval wrote that the first copyright factor looks to whether use “merely repackages or republishes the original,” or whether it “adds value to the original – if the quoted matter is used as raw material, transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.” The latter situation “is the very type of activity that the fair use doctrine intends to protect for the enrichment of society.” In Judge Leval’s mind, “Factor One is the soul of fair use.”

Second Factor

The second factor instructs us to consider the nature of the copyrighted work.

  1. One element is whether the work is published or unpublished.

An unpublished work will be subject to a higher degree of protection than a published work, and a defense of fair use is less likely to stand. The Second factor also looks to whether the work is factual or fictional. Factual works are subject to less copyright protection than fictional works (of the imagination).

Third Factor

The third factor – the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole – looks to the quantitative amount and qualitative value of the original work used in relation to the justification of that use. An allegedly infringing work that copies little of the original is likely to be fair use.

Fourth Factor

The fourth factor – the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work – considers:

(a)the extent of market harm caused by the defendant’s actions, and

(b)whether conduct of this sort would have a substantially adverse impact on the potential market for the original. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 590 (1994).

Where the allegedly infringing use does not substitute for the original and serves a “different market function,” this factor will weigh in favor of fair use.

Rogers v. Koons

Let’s look at some leading copyright fair use cases. One of the most well-known cases concerning fine art is the 1992 Second Circuit case, Rogers v. Koons. The case involved Koons’s creation of a sculpture (on the right) based on a black and white photograph by Art Rogers (on the left).

In 1986, in the course of preparing for an exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York on the theme of “Banality,” Koons came across a Museum Graphics reproduction of Rogers’s photograph, “Puppies,” and decided to use that image as a possible reference for a sculpture. The photograph depicted a scene of a couple holding a new litter of eight German Shepard puppies, which Koons found to be “typical, commonplace and familiar” – in other words, banal. Koons tore the copyright notice off the card and sent it to Italy to be copied. He visited the studio and directed the artisans to use the same angles, poses, and expression as in the photograph. He altered the work by making the couple appear vacant, with daisies adorning their hair, and painted the puppies a garish blue color. The polychromed larger than life-size sculpture was fabricated in a limited edition of four, and sold three copies for a total of $367,000.

Rogers brought a copyright infringement action in a New York federal district court against Koons and the Sonnabend Gallery, and won in 1991. On appeal, the Second Circuit upheld the copyright infringement decision and addressed each of the four fair use factors. With respect to the first fair use factor, purpose and character of the use, in addition to arguing that the sculpture was a parody, Koons emphasized that his artistic practice drew upon the movements of Cubism and Dadaism, and was especially influenced by Marcel Duchamp and his incorporation of manufactured objects (ready-mades) into works of art.

While the court acknowledged this artistic tradition, it nevertheless rejected Koons’s parody argument, observing that a parody “must be, at least in part, an object of the parody.” Instead, the court asked “whether the original was copied in good faith to benefit the public or primarily for the commercial interests of the infringer.” In particular, the court noted that Koons’s action in tearing the copyright notice off Rogers’s card suggested “bad faith” and militated against a finding of fair use.

As to the second factor, the nature of the copyrighted work, the court noted that fictional works receive greater protection than factual works. In the court’s view, Rogers’s photograph had more in common with fiction than with a work based on fact, such as a biography or telephone book. It signified an investment of time and effort in anticipation of financial return, a factor that also precluded a finding of fair use.

The third factor, the amount and substantiality of work used, also tilted in favor of Rogers. The court found that “the essence of Rogers’s photograph was copied nearly in toto, much more than would have been necessary even if the sculpture had been a parody of the plaintiff’s work. “In short, it is not really the parody flag that [the defendants] are sailing under, but rather the flag of piracy.”

Finally, on the fourth factor, the effect of the use on the market value of the original, the court stated that this was “the most important, and indeed, central fair use factor.” The Second Circuit found that because Koons’s String of Puppies was “primarily commercial in nature” and sold as “high-priced art,” the likelihood of future harm was presumed as a matter of law. Therefore, weighing the four factors and applying the prevailing fair use analysis at the time, the Second Circuit upheld the copyright infringement decision.

Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.

Two years later, in 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., clarifying important guidelines that have since formed a basis of analysis for lower courts deciding fair use cases, including those involving visual art. This landmark case is the Supreme Court’s latest pronouncement on fair use. In Campbell, a rap group, 2 Live Crew, recorded a rap version of Roy Orbison’s 1964 rock ballade, Oh Pretty Woman, after having been denied permission by the copyright holder, Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., to license the work. The resulting rap song, titled Pretty Woman, borrowed from Orbison’s distinctive opening guitar phrase and bass riff, mimicking each line of Orbison’s song, and replacing the original words with raunchy lyrics. In a unanimous decision by Justice Souter, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s ruling against 2 Live Crew’s commercial parody, holding that parody is a form of “criticism or comment” enumerated in the preamble of Section 107. The Court emphasized that the four fair use factors are to be weighed together, in an equitable rule of reason analysis, “not in isolation from one another, in light of the purposes of copyright.”

In a sharp departure from precedent, the Supreme Court held in Campbell that commercial use is not dispositive of fair use. Campbell was also important in its clarification of the first factor of the fair use analysis (the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes), and recognized that transformative works are the “fair use doctrine’s guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright,” drawing from Judge Leval’s 1990 law review article. Addressing the unique issues present in copyright parody for the first time, the Court held that “parody, like other comment and criticism, may claim fair use,” as the central investigation is to see “whether the new work merely supercede[s] the objects of the original creation, or instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” In other words, is the second work transformative?

Blanch v. Koons

Cases decided after Campbell v. Acuff-Rose reflect the Supreme Court’s emphasis on a case-by-case analysis of fair use claims and the interactive nature of fair use factors. In particular, tranformativeness has gained significance in copyright fair use cases, whereas pre-Campbell, the fourth factor, “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” was given the most weight.

Blanch v. Koons involved the use by Koons of a copyrighted photograph, Silk Sandals, which was taken by professional fashion photographer Andrea Blanch for a spread in the August 2000 issue of Allure magazine. The photograph, which was taken at close range, featured a woman’s lower legs and feet adorned with bronze nail polish and glittery Gucci sandals, resting on a man’s lap in a first-class airplane cabin.

The Second Circuit determined that the goals of the two works were divergent – Blanch’s work was a “shoot” organized by Conde Nast Publications, while Koons’s collage was a work of fine art.

1. The court found that Koons’s work was clearly transformative and relied on Koons’s explanation of the meaning behind his art. Since the work was transformative, the commercial exploitation was deemed less significant.

2. Also, the transformative nature of the work made the second factor, the nature of the work, of “limited usefulness.”

3. Additionally, it reasoned that the amount and substantiality of Koons’s copying – the third factor – was reasonable considering Koons’s use for commentary.

4. Finally, as to the fourth factor, the court found that Koons’s painting had no deleterious effect on the potential market for or value of Blanch’s photo.

While the court in Blanch v. Koons ultimately held that there was a proper fair use defense for the use of the appropriated images, fair use analysis remains ambiguous and uncertain, as demonstrated in Cariou v. Prince, which I will discuss next.

Patrick Cariou v. Richard Prince, Gagosian Gallery, Inc., Lawrence Gagosian

Turning now to Cariou v. Prince. This highly significant case, which settled in March 2014, will no doubt have an impact on artists as well as dealers and exhibitors of art. First, some background. The plaintiff, Patrick Cariou, is a professional photographer who spent over six years photographing Rastafarians in Jamaica. In 2000, he published a book, entitled Yes Rasta that included portraits of Rastafarian individuals and the Jamaican landscape. Richard Prince is a highly successful artist, whose works have been exhibited at a number of museums. He is known for his re-photography of advertising and appropriating images from other artists’ works. From 2005 to 2008, Prince created a series of paintings, 29 of which incorporated partial or whole images from Yes Rasta. To create the series, Prince cut out pages from Cariou’s book, and scanned, enlarged, cropped, and covered them with heavy brush strokes and various other painterly elements.

Prince never sought or received permission from Cariou to use Cariou’s photographs. In some works, Prince used portions of torn pages onto which he had drawn masks “in the style of Picasso” and digitally scanned them directly onto canvas, and affixed collage elements to other images for scanning. The portions of Yes Rasta photographs used and the amount of each Prince artwork they constituted, varied significantly. Here are some examples. Certain of Prince’s works, such as Graduation, were altered but not to the same degree as others. In Djuana Barnes, Natalie Barney, Renee Vivien and Romaine Brooks take over at the Guanahani, for example, the entire photo is used but also “heavily obscured and altered.” From November 8 through December 20, 2008, the Gagosian Gallery in New York put on a show featuring 22 of Prince’s Canal Zone artworks, and published an exhibition catalog, which included reproductions of many of the Canal Zone artworks exhibited and others that were not shown at the Gallery.

Appellate Court Decision

Cariou filed a lawsuit in a New York federal district court, alleging copyright infringement, and Prince and Gagosian moved for summary judgment, asserting a fair use defense. In 2011, the court held in favor of Cariou. On appeal, in April 2013, the Second Circuit reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded, concluding that 25 of Prince’s artworks made fair use of Cariou’s copyrighted photos. The court began its analysis by considering at the purpose of copyright to stimulate the progress in the arts and found that copyright’s goal “would be better served by allowing the use than preventing it.”

First Factor

With regard to the first fair use factor, the Second Circuit chose not to focus on Prince’s explanation of his artwork or whether he was commenting or intending to comment on an original work or on culture. Instead, the court focused on Prince’s artworks themselves and how they might “reasonably be perceived.” Whereas Cariou presented “serene and deliberately composed portraits and landscape photographs depict[ing] the natural beauty of Rastafarians and their surrounding environs,” Prince’s offered “crude and jarring works” that were “hectic and provocative.”

Fourth Factor

Turning next to the fourth factor, the appellate court was concerned “not with whether the use suppresses or even destroys the market for the original work or its potential derivatives, but whether the secondary use usurps the market of the original work.” The court reasoned that the audiences for the two artists were very different. Moreover, there was no evidence that Prince’s work had any impact on Cariou’s work or that Cariou would ever develop or license secondary uses of his work in the vein of Prince’s work.

Second Factor

Concerning the second fair use factor, the court reasoned that while Cariou’s work is creative and published, weighing against fair use, that factor was of limited use where, as here, the secondary use was for a transformative purpose.

Third Factor

Finally, evaluating the third factor, the court found that Prince’s use of Cariou’s work varied from work to work. Here are a few examples of Canal Zone works that the Second Circuit deemed “transformative as a matter of law.”

Five Remanded Works

Five of Prince’s works, however – Graduation, Meditation, Canal Zone (2007), Canal Zone (2008) andCharlie Company – did not differ sufficiently for the Second Circuit to make a determination about their transformative use as a matter of law, and were remanded back to the district court for determination under the proper standard. Judge Wallace (9th Circuit by designation) concurred in part and dissented in part, agreeing with the majority on the law, but finding that the majority should have left the determination for all 30 works to the district court on remand. Moreover, citing precedent, Judge Wallace would have allowed the court to consider Prince’s statements, consisting of “his view of the purpose and effect of each of the individual [p]aintings” – as relevant to the transformativeness.

Further Proceedings

In May 2013, Cariou filed a petition for rehearing, which the Second Circuit denied. Cariou then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, or discretionary review, hoping that the high court would hear the case. The Supreme Court denied cert. in November 2013. Ultimately, the parties reached a confidential settlement in March 2014 as to the five remanded works.


As the fair use doctrine indicates, and as the Supreme Court and lower courts have recognized, the fair use determination is an open-ended and context-sensitive inquiry. Therefore, it is impossible to predict with any degree of confidence the outcome of an individual case. No doubt one of the greatest challenges in art law in the coming years will be adapting copyright law to protect and encourage creativity in a culture of ever increasing referencing and appropriation.