Photographer and National Portrait Gallery go head-to-head over image usage in wake of Prince’s death


posted Friday, April 29, 2016 at 2:59 PM EDT


Following recording artist, producer and actor Prince's untimely death on April 21st, there was an outpouring of emotions in the media and across the internet. Not surprisingly, a lot of fans and media outlets shared images and videos, many of these perhaps without permission of the rights holders.

Photographer Lynn Goldsmith is claiming that the Smithsonian Institution was one of these offenders regarding her 1993 portrait of Prince, which is displayed in the museum. The portrait was originally sold to record producer Jimmy Iovine with conditions, including that Goldsmith retained the copyright and that the print was not to be "published, copied, televised, digitized…"

The museum hung Goldsmith's portrait of Prince in the National Portrait Gallery's 'In Memoriam' area, and then proceeded to alert the media that they could come and film or photograph the portrait. Numerous media outlets, including AP and Getty used images and video of the hanging portrait. Additionally, the national gallery provided a link for users to download the portrait on their site.

This has not sat well with Rachel Simon, license director for Goldsmith's studio. She is claiming that by allowing people to photograph the portrait and distributing a download, Goldsmith's copyright was violated. After sending a cease and desist, the image download link was removed by April 26th.

However, Goldsmith is seeking damages. Simon told PDN via email, "We feel financial restitution is necessary to resolve [this], for as you can imagine, that image cannot be licensed for any fee ever again as it has been released WORLDWIDE for free in some cases." It is unknown what amount of damages are being sought by Goldsmith and her representatives. Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas couldn't say much regarding legal discussions, but she did state that discussions are ongoing. 

As of this afternoon, the Smithsonian's Instagram account is still showing Goldsmith's portrait. You can see below that they are attributing the portrait to Goldsmith, but this would seem still to be in violation of the original terms of sale of the image.

For an institution that relies upon artists and their creations, the Smithsonian's handling of Goldsmith's portrait and their distribution of it via digital file is surprising. We wouldn't be shocked to find that artists may now be less likely to work with the Smithsonian in the future.

(Seen via PDN