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You may remember, last year back in April I posted an article about Eggleston, who is a very well known fine art photographer who had just been sued by one of his collectors. The collector had bought over the course of many years over 190 prints of Eggleston. I assume he holds the largest body of his work. The photographer had reissued a new series of a previously used image in a different size and on a different paper. An image that the collector had purchased previously. The collector felt that this was a reissue rather than new works and therefore devalued his previous investment and he sued Eggleston for unspecified damages.

This is an interesting case for the Fine Art world and the Photography Business for many reasons. What a photographer can and cannot do with the work is unregulated because the art world is unregulated. The value of Fine Art Photography is subjective as it is with all art, and largely based on demand and availability. I personally felt that the collector had a valid point because let’s face it, if I was in his shoes I would be pretty upset about a reissue as well. I don’t care so much if it is a different size and paper, it is the same image. Back in the days photographers destroyed the negative and that was that. Even if the print was a new size, a new paper, the image is the same. I felt that Eggleston had made a bad judgement call that may just hurt him with collectors in the future. But, the 5.9 Million he raked in through the auction say that collectors don’t share my concerns.

You had different opinions about it, mostly photographers sided (no surprises here) with Eggleston. This case did go to court and the judge just threw it out. Below is what PDN wrote about the verdict (read the entire article on PDN’s website):

In dismissing the case, Judge Deborah A. Batts rejected Sobel’s claim that Eggleston was in violation of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law.

The decision turned primarily on Article 15 of the law, which states that offering a limited edition constitutes “an express warranty . . . that no additional multiples of the same image, whether designated ‘proofs’ other than trial proofs, numbered or otherwise, have been produced.”

“The plain and unambiguous language of the statute shows that [Eggleston’s sale] is not a violation,” the judge wrote in her decision. According to the statute, artists issuing limited editions “from a master” (eg, a photographic negative) must disclose the existence of any previous editions. Because of that language, “the statute seems to contemplate and permit the very ‘violation’ [Sobel] alleges,” the judge wrote.

Where do you stand on this issue? Is it a photographers right to bank in on as much as you can while you can or was this a tight rope walk? Would love to hear from you on this.

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