US Judge rules for Eggleston in dispute with collector










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Celebrated American photographer William Eggleston won a legal victory last month when a judge in the US District Court in the Southern District of New York dismissed a claim of fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation brought by collector Jonathan Sobel. Sobel is an avid Eggleston collector who owns 190 of the artist’s prints and even helped finance a 2008 Eggleston retrospective at the Whitney Museum, where he is a trustee.

The legal dispute arose because Sobel owns an 11.75″ x 17.38″ dye transfer print of Eggleston’s famous Memphis (Tricycle) image, shown below, for which he reportedly paid $250,000. That print is one of an edition of 20 that was created in the 1980s. Last year a large format 44″ x 60″ inkjet print, authorized by Eggleston and made from a digital scan of the same film, was sold at a Christie’s auction for $578,500. Sobel argued that by creating a new set of large format inkjet prints beyond the 30-year old limited edition of dye transfer prints of the same image, Eggleston was diluting the value of the earlier Sobel-owned print. As Sobel told ARTINFO in an interview after filing his claim, ‘The commercial value of art is scarcity, and if you make more of something, it becomes less valuable.’

Memphis (Tricycle) c. 1969-1970, William Eggleston. Twenty 11.75″ x 17.38″ dye transfer prints of this iconic image were produced by the artist in the 1980s as part of a limited edition. In 2012 the same image was sold at auction as a 44″ x 60″ inch inkjet print in an edition of 2 for $578,500.

The judge, Deborah Batts, dismissed Sobel’s claim, writing that, ‘Although both the Limited Edition works and the Subsequent Edition works were produced from the same images, they are markedly different’. She ruled that Eggleston could only be held liable for any subsequent loss in value of Sobel’s smaller dye transfer print if the artist had created the new prints using the same dye transfer process. Eggleston’s lawyer, John Cahill applauded the ruling stating, ‘The decision is important because it confirms that artists who work in multiples will continue to have the right to use the images that they create’. You can read accounts of the origin of the claim and the subsequent ruling at ARTINFO.

While it’s not difficult to understand Sobel’s disappointment at paying for a photograph he valued based largely on its scarcity as a physical object, the ruling does seem to affirm, at least in the US, that an artist owns the image itself and is free to take advantage of future technologies as they present new opportunities to present the image in different forms. The question then is, does a large format inkjet print present a substantially different form than an 11 x 17 dye transfer print? A US District Court judge has said yes. What do you think?







Comments


Revenant

Like Chuck Lantz wrote below, “limited edition” means that that particular edition consists of a determined number of copies. It doesn’t say anything about the number of copies in other editions of the same work. As long as the medium or presentation is different, it’s a new edition.
For example, many novels are published both in limited, numbered or lettered, editions, and unlimited mass-market editions. And it’s quite common for artists to make limited print runs on large format fine art paper, and then sell cheaper prints of the same image as an unlimited edition.


wkay

that’s nuts, since when is a manufacturer responsible for their products’ values in the secondary market? Ford could be sued for making 1965 Mustang’s again. Subsequent Edition should be labeled as a ‘reproduction’ to keep clean.


pavi1

Evidence that marketing skill is much more important than photography skill.


FractalFlame

Bloody hell yes – £250 and $578 thousand??

For a damn tricycle photo?

FFS.. the ‘art’ elite are morons! they’ll buy a pile of dog shiit if someone told them it saw “art”.


Roland Karlsson

@Chuck – yeah sure – I assume the photographer is legally right. I am not sure about it, but it could be so.

But, its a matter of trust. Do you dare buy from a photographer that first makes a dye transfer limited edition and then an ink print series of the same image?


Roland Karlsson

@chaosman. I tried to as you suggested – cropping some to the right. Hmmmm … IMHO it did not work out at all. There is a kind of balance in the image, that is disturbed if you try to do so.

So – maybe its an iconic image … even if it looks so common. Or?


afterswish1

I think the artist was just biting the hand that fed out of pure greed. In my opinion Sobel was right despite what the ruling said.

Fair enough, he should have got a contract. It’s pretty clear that ‘limited edition’ implies more copies will not be made whenever the artist feels like it though.


cplunk

But I also have little grief for the art collector who places his value of the art he collects on the exclusivity of it.
But maybe I’m a little naive to consider art something that should be appreciated as art, not as an investment, and would personally only purchase something based on my own opinion of the piece, not on it’s value or rareness.


Chuck Lantz

I have a background in limited edition prints. Not photos, but graphics, and the legal principal is the same. If I do an edition of one image using one type of printmaking, for example a plate etching, I can then legally do an entirely new – and legal – edition using serigraphy, stone litho, or whatever, still using the same image.

As someone else has commented, I could even do another edition of the same image, but using different colors or paper, and again, it would legally be a separate and unique edition.

The key is in how each edition is described by the artist. So, “An edition of 100 plate-etching images on d’Arches cold-pressed paper” would be legally unique from “100 plate-etched images on DFK Rives paper” , even if the images were identical.


Dennis Linden

That is interesting, but not what I as a buyer of such art would expect. Overall, I would respectfully submit that I was duped. Now, exposed, caveat emptor.


plasnu

Mr. Eggleston should have printed extra inkjet prints for who currently own his original edition, and the owners can buy one of these for small fee.


mick232

Bottom-line: don’t spend $250000 for a print of a photograph and you don’t have to worry about it losing its value.


plasnu

Those dye transfer prints should be more valuable than $250,000 now and he is not loosing any money.


saifijames325

@Loise, you make $27h thats great going girl good for you! My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online, seriously I couldn’t be happier I work when I want and where I want. And with a little effort I easily bring in $35h and sometimes even as much as $85h…heres a good example of what i’m doing, www.hdcash1.com


DenWil

The 36 special edition digital pigment 44 x 60 posters do not diminish 11 x 17 30 year old dye transfer prints. If anything their value goes up. That point is given credence considering the sale price of over 5 million dollars for the high end posters.

If I came out with ink jet posters of images that sold as numbered silver enlargements twenty years ago those collectors would be thrilled to have the hand crafted darkroom chemical versions.

Digital editions are a different presentation and I suspect Sobel is one of those irrational litigious collectors that end up on Law & Order episodes. He owns 192 Eggleston prints. That has obsession written all over it.


joe6pack

I think Eggleston has a different definition of “limited edition” than the rest of us.


chaosman

I think a dye transfer print and an inkjet print have the same purpose : to make a print with the best available quality, albeit in different time frames. So I think it is not that different.
As written below, if you buy an image at this price, buy the image rights with it…
OTOH, I would have cropped off a little on the right side, just my 2€c..


chaosman

I think a dye transfer print and an inkjet print have the same purpose : to make a print with the best available quality, albeit in different time frames. So I think it is not that different.
As written below, if you buy an image at this price, buy the image rights with it…
OTOH, I would have cropped off a little on the right side, just my 2€c..


OneGuy

There was a different yet a very similar case which happened with the invention of DVDs. Orchestra members were paid for work sold under an existing technology (LPs or cassettes — don’t know which) but then, years later, the management reissued the recording on DVDs. But of course the artists wanted to get paid even if the original contract stipulated something else and did not even anticipate DVDs.

Keep your ownership rights on your work, your pics. You might guess or you already know that Facebook and some others want these rights to slip out.


OneGuy

There was a different yet a very similar case which happened with the invention of DVDs. Orchestra members were paid for work sold under an existing technology (LPs or cassettes — don’t know which) but then, years later, the management reissued the recording on DVDs. But of course the artists wanted to get paid even if the original contract stipulated something else and did not even anticipate DVDs.

Keep your ownership rights on your work, your pics. You might guess or you already know that Facebook and some others want these rights to slip out.


OneGuy

There was a different yet a very similar case which happened with the invention of DVDs. Orchestra members were paid for work sold under an existing technology (LPs or cassettes — don’t know which) but then, years later, the management reissued the recording on DVDs. But of course the artists wanted to get paid even if the original contract stipulated something else and did not even anticipate DVDs.

Keep your ownership rights on your work, your pics. You might guess or you already know that Facebook and some others want these rights to slip out.


racketman

‘Beauty in the commonplace…..everyday object made iconic…….desolation behind the facade of American suburbia……….everyday object from a new perspective…’
I could add some interpretations of my own but at the end of the day I know damn well if Joe Bloggs or myself exhibited this image no one would give it a second glance.


Harold66

well the most difficult part to believe is why this image would draw such high prices
Harold


iAPX

I plan to buy some photos, to expose them at home, help and fund the photographer, and maybe do a good investment.

It’s a problem if this investment could loose value because the photographer decide later to sell a batch of the same exact picture: I think it should be clear from start how many reproduction will be done and their formats.

In case of a unique (and expensive!) reproduction, there should be a contract, the negative or digital file should be given to the client or destroyed.
But I understand the desire or need of this photograph to make money (a lot!).


Roland Karlsson

This is not a matter of Copyright. Its a matter of fraud, or not. Making more copies of a limited edition. The photographer claimed that the new prints were another series as he used a new technology. Personally I have no idea, and I think I agree with those that claim that the photographer is taking a risk by possible alienating himself from his potential customers. I also think it is kind of cheap to do it. Being a famous photographer, I think he can take a new image and print it.


plasnu

Every photographer should clearly define the meaning of “limited edition” before they sell their photography to avoid the future trouble.


dennishancock

Excuse me but this is the latest example of The Emperor Has No Clothes. That Eggleston tricycle photo is worth no more than twenty-five cents.


Stephen_C

This is the art world where art is an investment. The actual quality of the art is secondary to the story and the fame of the artist. 10,000 better photos are uploaded to Flickr every day, but not by people with publicists.


ryansholl

Regardless of profit or loss, I think that if this ruling were made universally known the entire industry of limited edition artwork will have ended.


JonP

It’s a tricky area. A friend who is print maker re-printed a limited run of one of her etchings, justifying it by using sepia rather than black ink, and thereby creating a new work. But I know some artists would consider this slightly dubious.

I think it’s even harder with photographs, where it so easy to change the size/tint/crop/whatever and create a ‘new’ print run.

When an artist finally creates a commercially successful image, there must be great temptation to cash in on it.


Heywoodphoto

Two things… I would think the original dye transfer prints would actually increase in value. Or at least they would have if Sobel hadn’t whined about it so much causing doubt in future buyers minds. First editions are always worth more… always.

Secondly… the lack of understanding about copyright and artists rights on this forum make me weep.


VidJa

I’m glad Eggleston won the dispute. An artist should always have the right to use its own creations as he/she wishes, even in the case of ‘limited’editions.

If Sobel bought the limited edition directly from Sobel (something the story does not tell) he could have made a contract on further copies. If not, then there is no legal link between the photographer and the buyer and thus no case.


r700

When a artist makes a limited series lithograph, they typically scratch an “X” through the stone plate so no more can be made.
Same should hold true for photography.
If it is a limited run, and sold as such, it should not be printed again.
If it wasn’t originally stated as a strictly limited edition, then that’s different.
Yes the photographer owns the right to the image, but not the right to make as many as he wants of a previous limited edition.


Heywoodphoto

I agree with you about destroying the negative… I’ve thought about doing a series like that myself and seeing if it attracts any attention. The problem is that the photographer doesn’t often see much value for their art in their lifetime (Eggleston is a rare example) so reproduction is the only way to make a living. Ansel Adams used to make prints on demand for $150 a pop in the late 70’s. Imagine that!


slerman

Sobel is only partially correct that, “The commercial value of art is scarcity.” The image itself also holds value. The issue is whether the artist can/should retain some of the core value inherent in the image. I think they should.

We’re going to explore these ideas and more in an exhibit–Fugitivart/Made to Fade– at the Soho Photo Gallery in September. www.fugitivart.com

Perhaps William Eggleston would agree to display a Fugitivart print!


Cy Cheze

No one will pay big money for an “image.” Most of the value to a collector consist of the fact that a highly-acclaimed work is exclusive or rare. The people who pay big money for antique cameras do so mainly because they know that no one is likely to make replicas, or that the “original” and the copy / phoney are not confused.


Photomonkey

As Sobel is investing he is taking a risk. One is that the owner of reproducible art may, in fact, reproduce it!


nelsonal

This is why traditionally art doesn’t begin to rise in value until the artist dies.


joe6pack

It won’t prevent his estate from printing though.


billbourd

If I paid a quarter mil for a photo I would have been sure to have had a contract with the photographer that I owned the image and the copyright on it. I believe if you buy a painting you own it outright. Why should a photo be any different, unless as in the latter case there were two prints and you bought it knowing that. I cannot understand anyone who would spend that kind of money without having full ownership.


Heywoodphoto

If you buy an original painting you own that physical painting… the artist still owns the rights to that image and can reproduce it to their hearts content. (unless their foolish enough to sell that too) The problem with photography is that there is no such thing as an original print, only an original negative and they don’t look as good framed on the wall.


tektrader

No the artist should have stuck with the original limited quantity of prints. If I was SOBEL I would have sued as well. This is a disgusting misuse of ownership. The copy wasnt even scanned from a negative.

Anyone could have done a print scan and reprinted. This is Wrong.

It has destroyed any credibility the photographer has for future limited print runs.


Amadou Diallo

Who said it wasn’t scanned from the film? Eggleston had the negatives, which were scanned and used to make inkjet prints.


Photomonkey

I think the principal of ownership is paramount and Eggleston is entitled to do as he wishes. Because of the fact that the new images are inkjet I think Sobel will see the value of his dye sub holdings increase dramatically.


tkbslc

I think the artist should have the right to sell his own work and copies of it, but I also think doing things like this would risk harming your reputation for any future works. Would someone else pay big bucks for another limited edition print, know it maybe won’t be so limited?

Source Article from http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/04/03/judge-eggleston-dispute-collector

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