So far, we’ve seen some cool ways that artists have used other images in their works of art. But this week, let’s look at the dark side of image use.

More specifically, let’s look at social media.

At the start of Chester Fields, I mentioned how fuzzy ownership can be once we post photos online. Once you upload something on Facebook, for example, you give Facebook permission to use it without your permission.

The same goes for Instagram: you give Instagram a fully-paid, royalty-free, transferable and worldwide license to use anything that you post. In basic terms, Instagram has rights to use any of your images, however they want, without getting your permission or owing you a dime. And they can give these rights to third parties.

Now, if someone else uses your Instagram photo on his or her Instagram account, you can file a copyright complaint with the company. But what happens when somebody uses your Instagram photo outside of Instagram? Some people found out the hard way that there’s very little you can do.

And they found this out thanks to the crazy world of contemporary art.

Every year, there are art fairs all over the world, where commercial art galleries set up a booth to sell art. One of the biggest of these fairs is Frieze Art Fair in New York. And in 2015, Larry Gagosian, one of the most respected art dealers working today, devoted his entire booth to the artist Richard Prince and his series of works called New Portraits.

So what are these New Portraits?

Marco Scozzaro-Frieze(©Marco Scozzaro/Frieze)

Basically, Prince took screenshots from the Instagram feeds of total strangers, blew them up as 6-foot-tall inkjet prints, and presented them as artworks. He didn’t give the original photographers any warning, nor did he seek their permissions. And when nearly all the prints sold for $90,000 USD each, none of the original creators got any compensation.

It’s also worth noting that so far, all lawsuits filed against Prince and his New Portraits have been unsuccessful. Our technology evolves so fast that laws can’t keep up with it.


Sometimes, there are artist projects that are meant to be viewed on the internet. Jon Rafman’s 9 Eyes project is a really neat example of this: he’s created an online gallery of intriguing, baffling, sometimes jaw-dropping images found on Google Street View. You can check out his project here:

But generally, please use caution when uploading photos online. Ask yourself: if this image got stolen from me and used without my permission, would I be okay with that?

And if the answer is a definitive “no”, don’t post it.