Saturday 20 February 2016

Sex Pistols' photographer threatens to sue Elizabeth Peyton for copyright infringement

Dennis Morris, renowned photographer and artist, well-known for his photographs of musicians and cultural icons such as Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols, is considering bringing a lawsuit against New York artist Elisabeth Peyton for her painting "John Lydon, Destroyed" – created in 1994, portraying John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten).

Elisabeth Peyton's John Lydon, Destroyed, 1994
According to Morris the painting is too similar to a photograph of the singer that he took in 1977, thereby infringing his copyright. Meanwhile, the painting was withdrawn from Sotheby's contemporary art sale on 11 February, at the consignor's request.  

Morris – who owns all copyright in all the photographs he took of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotton –previously filed a copyright infringement suit against Peyton in 2014 for the unauthorised use of his photographs in creating derivative artworks, which were reproduced on garments sold at Target stores.  In that case, Morris claimed that at least three of Peyton's works depicting the two Sex Pistols' members infringed his copyright in his photographs of Vicious and Lydon, which were published in the 1991 book "Never mind the B*ll*cks: A photographic Record of the Sex Pistols Tour."  

At that time, Peyton denied all allegations and claimed fair use. The case was settled out of court last year. I wonder if fair use could be deemed a valid defence in this new case of appropriation of art, considering the criteria outlined in the leading case Prince v Cariou. What do you think?

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