Owns This Story
In 2015, Ratajkowski posts a photo of herself from a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition shoot on Instagram—not an uncommon occurrence for the 29-year-old model who has more than 27 million IG followers and has posted more than 1,500 times since joining in 2011.
Later that year, artist Richard Prince creates a physical reproduction of the post, including a comment from his own Instagram account. It’s part of his new exhibition called “New Portraits,” a series of prints of other individuals’ IG posts. Another of Ratajkowski’s posts is also featured in the series, which was shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. The two Ratajkowski pieces are listed for sale for $80,000 each.
One of the works featuring Ratajkowski is sold to a Gagosian employee; the other is purchased by Ratajkowski and her boyfriend at the time. She was also gifted a smaller black-and-white “study” by Prince’s studio. When the couple broke up, she took ownership of the Prince piece, but forgot about the study, which her ex-boyfriend claimed. He later asked her to purchase it back from him for $10,000, and she did.
In September 2020, prompted by the Prince incident, the paparazzi lawsuit, and other personal experiences, Ratajkowski authors a piece in The Cut about her struggle to own images of herself, both in the physical world and online. She denounces Prince and “New Portraits,” a series that prompted many other photographers and models to take legal action against Prince.
In an effort to reclaim her own image, and get back at Prince and those who use her image without permission, Ratajkowski auctions an NFT of a digital composite image that features her, photographed in her New York apartment, standing in front of that Prince print hanging in her Los Angeles home. “As somebody who has built a career off of sharing my image, so many times—even though that’s my livelihood—it’s taken from me and then somebody else profits off of it,” she says.
The NFT, called “Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution,” sells for $175,000.
Wait, what's an NFT again?
In November 2021, Ratajkowski will release a collection of essays, titled “My Body.” The book, according to its description, will “chronicle moments from Ratajkowski’s life while investigating the culture’s fetishization of girls and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women’s sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the grey area between consent and abuse.”
Ratajkowski’s lawsuit with O’Neil has not yet been resolved.
The Fight Continues
Emily Ratajkowski never wanted to be a warrior in the IP wars, but after being sued by a paparazzi and buying an $80,000 recreation of her own Instagram post, she had little choice. Now she’s the public face of a messy battle between artists, models, publishers, and platforms that has everyone asking: who owns what now?
The Post The Gallery The Purchase The Lawsuit The Essay The NFT The Fight Contines
In October 2019, Ratajkowski discovers that she’s being sued by Robert O’Neil, a professional paparazzo, for posting an image on Instagram that he took of her without licensing or authorization. O’Neil is seeking $150,000 in damages, and Ratajkowski’s counsel likens the lawsuit to extortion.
everywhere, but you’re still not totally clear what it means? Yeah, no shame in that. Let’s break it down.
NFT stands for “non-fungible token.” The word “fungible” basically means “replaceable” or “interchangeable.” Commodities are fungible. Dollar bills are fungible. A unique piece of artwork, however, is not, meaning an NFT is a one-of-a-kind token that can’t be replaced by an identical item.
NFTs are stored on a digital ledger called the blockchain, which certifies the token to be unique. So when you buy Emily Ratajkowski’s NFT, for example, you’re not purchasing the image itself. It’s still free for everyone to look at online. Rather, you’re effectively buying a bit of code associated with the image file that marks it as unique, as your own.
In their inherent scarcity, NFTs stand in opposition with the rest of the digital world, which is largely infinite in supply.
Okay, all caught up? Let’s get back to it.
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