Some Thoughts, But No Answers On Online Authorship


This post is not solely on copying other artists, I'm more interested in how we claim online authorship of art on the internet and how we attribute those others have created. I want to say that it's not on to copy someone knowingly without crediting the original artist. If you do this (knowingly or unknowingly) the best thing (I think) you can do it apologise and take the derivative work down immediately. And obviously, don't do it again.

Recently while in Lidl I saw that they had instagram-esq images on their wall, with no attribution to who took them. They also had a banner letting shoppers know they could share their #lidlsurprises on social media using the hashtag. These images on the wall had no information to who actually took the original image, was it a shopper, was it someone who genuinely shared using the hashtag, or a marketing ploy? Instead of writing my artist's statement I read instagram's terms of use. The terms of use declare that although instagram does not own your content, by posting images using the service you grant a royalty-free worldwide licence to instagram. It mentions nothing about attribution of your images that they may share.

Richard Prince is an artist that divides opinion. He has been sued several times for his use of other's instagram images. He exhibits portions of his instagram feed in the gallery setting, including the amount of likes, the user name, and a comment or two from himself; essentially a small glimpse of what you or I may see when viewing instagram on our phone or computer. Prince takes appropriation in contemporary art close to the tipping point.

Donald Graham was one subject that sent a cease and desist letter to not just Richard Prince but the Gagosian Gallery where the images were being shown.

"The only way you’d know my work was a part of this display is...well, that’s just it, you wouldn’t know"

The Guardian, Jan 2016

online authorshipWhat becomes even more interesting is that the screenshot that Richard Prince exhibited was actually a third party sharing Donald Graham's image, and in all the articles about Prince being sued I cannot find out if the third party(s) that shared Graham's image have been sued or reprimanded for not attributing the image correctly to Graham.

In terms of attributing the image maker, Richard Prince displayed the username of the poster of the image. According to instagram's terms of use, users are only supposed to post content they own, or have the rights to share. The appearance of the third party that reposted Graham's image without attribution to Graham, but instead attribution to another third party shows how quickly images can lose their original attribution, and how carelessly images and artwork can be shared.

It also shows that Richard Prince is, in some ways doing more to attribute the images to the owner than Lidl are. 

When sharing others work and attributing images to the original author is a username enough? Where do we draw the line at appropriate attribution? As a content creator I become overly concerned with unknowingly copying someone else. Many bloggers, and other content creators share the work of others, often with just attribution to the user name of the original creator. Is this really enough to make claim to online authorship?

online authorshipWhen I exhibited my flowers in St Leonards in 2012 a local photographer photographed the installation, and then sent me the photographs. Rightly so, Rybolt had watermarked his images, the branding of the image he took ties myself to him. The photograph of my work taken by Rybolt becomes a collaboration of sorts, one that was unexpected. I do not know how, or even if Rybolt has shown the photographs of my work to others, and when I think about it, I think about the brackets in which Rybolt could display these images. Is it a documentation of an exhibition, are the photographs an artwork in their own right? Do I deserve attribution as the creator of the artwork that has been photographed?

Online authorship of images on instagram needn't be complicated, but it has become so. Images are reposted repeatedly, often losing their original attributions, which feels many different types of wrong. Lidl are using images that others may have taken without attribution, and so are THREE (the local store has a mural on one wall of instagram images). Richard Prince is exhibiting other peoples photographs with questionable attribution, and selling them for $90,000 +.

Because there's the conversation about the Instagrams themselves, and their value as works of art,  versus the conversation about appropriation, which isn't necessarily tied so directly.


It's one thing to reproduce something when very few artists are doing that and open up the field for artists to do whatever the hell they want. It's another thing to do the same thing 30 years later in a culture where everyone copy-and-pastes and takes screen shots.

Paddy Johnson, Artnet

I've long had an admiration with transcription and appropriation artists, many, such as The Chapman Brothers and Andy Worhol do it well, and there is clean line between their work and the original. It's when these boundaries become muddied that the world stops to think again. It stops to analyse if this is really art or not.

I'll end with copying is bad, and stealing is worse, and when appropriation is done well, its is really done well, but as far as Richard Prince's work? I don't know, it raises questions that could be an excellent conversation starter, but that also may not ever have a definitive answer.