What Does “LimiteD eDition” ReaLLy mean?
he was misled to believe that Eggleston would never
make more prints of his images once the editions of
dye-transfer prints were sold out.
“The question is, what was represented [by the seller to the buyer] at the time of the sale? Sobel says it
was a limited edition, but what does that mean when
someone is dealing with photographers?” asks New
York attorney Barbara Hoffman.
Sobel will have to produce evidence to support his
claim that Eggleston pledged never to make additional
prints once the limited editions of dye-transfer prints
were complete, Hoffman says. By themselves, the edition numbers on the prints are probably insufficient,
“You have to look at practice in the photography
world, and whether a buyer would reasonably understand that in photography, there would be no more
images drawn at all. [Eggleston’s lawyer] will say [the
numbering on the dye-transfer prints] doesn’t mean
there will be no editions in a different size or medium.”
New York attorney Nancy Wolff also says the case
comes down to the question: What does it mean when
you purchase a limited edition? “That has been interpreted so many ways in practice” by photographers
and dealers, she says, but rarely, if ever, has the question been addressed by the courts.
To consider Sobel’s claim, the court will turn to New
York’s Arts and Cultural Affairs statute, a consumer
protection law. It defines “limited edition” as “works of
art produced from a master, all of which are the same
image and bear numbers or other markings to denote
the limited production thereof to a stated maximum
number of multiples.” Sobel cites that definition in
support of his claim that Eggleston violated the spirit
and letter of the law.
But that statutory definition begs an important
In his own defense, Eggleston can invoke photographers’
long tradition of issuing several limited editions of varying
print sizes and processes. A new digital print of this image,
“Untitled, 1973” sold for $242,500.
question: Are two images “the same image” if they’re
distinctly different sizes, and produced by different
processes? “One of the counter arguments [to Sobel’s
claim] is that size and process make it a different image,” Wolff says.
Moreover, other sections of the law arguably allow
for the possibility of different editions created from
the same original transparency or negative. One sec-
tion, for instance, says, “If the multiple was made from
a master which produced a prior limited edition … this
shall be stated [to potential buyers].”
Another section of the law says that buyers have to be
notified if a multiple of a master work is a reproduction