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Photographer can reprint his own work, judge says

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A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against William Eggleston, ruling that the photographer should be allowed to turn older photo negatives into new images.

The case of Jonathan Sobel against photographer William Eggleston has attracted a lot of attention in April last year. The former is a collector of photos, who bought about 190 images from the latter.

However, the photographer has decided to turn 36 of his prints into digital content. He opened an auction at Christie’s for the digital prints and he managed to raise $5.9 million.

william-eggleston-memphis-tricycle Photographer can reprint his own work, judge says News and Reviews

Memphis Tricycle “Limited Edition” reprinted and sold by the photographer. Credits: William Eggleston.

Art collector filed suit against William Eggleston, following the photographer’s decision to reprint his own photos

Sobel heard of Eggleston’s accomplishment, therefore he decided to file a lawsuit against the photographer at the US District Court  in the Southern District of New York, for reprinting some of the photos Eggleston owns.

The art collector is the owner of a 17-inch version of the Memphis Tricycle, a great photo printed using dye-transfer process, which is the main culprit behind the lawsuit.

Sobel said that he paid $250,000 for this print and that he owns it, meaning that the photographer does not have the rights to create other prints and sell them. Printing more units would result in the value deflation of the original artwork, he added.

memphis-tricycle-dye-transfer-print Photographer can reprint his own work, judge says News and Reviews

Original Memphis Tricycle printed using dye-transfer process. A 5-foot print is owned by Jonathan Sobel. Credits: William Eggleston.

US District Court judge has dismissed Jonathan Sobel’s claims

However, judge Deborah Batts did not agree with Jonathan Sobel. She dismissed the case against the photographer, even though he printed more versions of the iconic image.

The judge ruled that Eggleston released the “Limited Edition” version using a different print procedure. Batts added that William gained a lot of money from the auction, but this does not mean that he earned it at the collector’s expense.

The 36 prints were not produced under a similar dye-transfer print, meaning that the Memphis Tricycle and the others remain original artworks, which have not lost their value.

Judge Batts confirmed that the photographer used digital printing technologies and, even though they represent the same photo, they look very different.

All of the digital prints consist of photos captured by William Eggleston in the Mississippi delta. The photographer sold a five-foot version of the Memphis tricycle for $578,500.

The judge said that he can keep all the money because he used different printing techniques, which would not devalue the original dye-transfer print.

Eggleston’s lawyers saluted the decision, while Sobel’s representatives were not so happy about it

John Cahill, the lawyer who protected the photographer in court, welcomed the judge’s decision because it is another confirmation that the artists are the real owners of the content. They should be allowed to use their own photos, added Cahill.

Virginia Rutledge, a lawyer and adviser who acted as a consultant for Eggleston, also saluted Batts’ judgement. She said that the ruling has been made according to the laws of New York. The decision is seen as an assertion that photographers have the right to continue working with photos that they created.

On the other hand, a representative for Sobel did not concur with the decision. The art collector disagrees with the judge’s ruling, but his representatives did not confirm whether he will file an appeal or not.

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