Rogers vs. Koons-Is it art or is it theft?

With Art History 2 is under my belt and this semesters History of Photography, I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for art in all forms. That being said, my overall question for the 1991 case of Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons is this; should it be illegal for one artist to base their idea off of another’s work?


Art Rogers, Puppies (Left) Jeff Koons, sculpture (Right)

Art Rogers is a professional photographer, he snapped a black and white photo of a man and woman holding eight puppies. This photograph titled Puppies was used for many purposes, like greeting cards. 

Jeff Koons caught eye of this image and drew inspiration from the piece, enough inspiration to make a comedic sculpture of the photograph. The sculpture has eight puppies and two people holding them. The colors used seem to come off as funny, as well as the posture of the older gentleman and their facial expressions. Looking at the photograph, you see a backstory. You question the relationship between the man and woman and are left wondering about the German shepherds. The smiles on their faces seem organic, as if the photograph wasn’t planned (even though they are posing with puppies- the struggle is real).

Rogers photograph has human people, a background, realistic expressions and concrete objects. As for Koon’s sculpture, they are not real people, no background and rather cartoonesque body language. Koons did not ask for permission to use Rogers photograph as inspiration, claiming it was used for a parody of the original image. The court ruled to Rogers favor, the sculpture looked “too close” to photograph and Koons had to pay a fee to Rogers.


Was Art Rogers’s right? That Koons stole his work and broke his copyright agreement. Was Rogers not appreciative enough to Koons? A man who was so inspired by the photograph that he wanted to attribute it. Should Koons have given more credit to Rogers? If not asking for permission, at least stating whose piece it was based off of. Could all of this been avoided if his parody changed the animal? If he had a more predominate approach to the sculpture parody would it have been considered an original piece of art?


One thought on “Rogers vs. Koons-Is it art or is it theft?

  1. I feel as though Koons should have asked permission or at least told Art Rogers that he was doing a sculpture piece inspired by a photograph of his. Art Rogers might have been flattered enough to go along with his idea, but for him to do it with out approval gives Rogers a right to sue and be upset.

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