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Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, his former sister-in-law and the paintings that sparked a copyright row

Lize McCarron claims Ronnie Wood copied photos of band’s Voodoo Lounge sessions for a suite of paintings without her permission

Where do the boundaries lie between inspiration and referencing and copying, in a work of art? Can truth and fairness be determined in a David-and-Goliath case, nearly three decades after the events? This is a tale of blurred lines. It involves questions about originality and copying and intellectual property rights; power and inequality; the nature of photography; bad blood among extended family many years after a celebrity split; pricey legal big guns; and, above all, he-said-she-said.

This much we know: On the one hand, a world-famous rock star, Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones, with a side career as an artist, including selling limited-edition prints of his paintings of band members from the Voodoo Lounge album sessions at his home studio in his country house in Co Kildare.

On the other hand Lize McCarron, who was born Elizabeth Karslake, sister of Jo Wood, who was married to Ronnie Wood for 34 years before they split very publicly in 2008. McCarron took photos of the band rehearsing Voodoo Lounge. Wood used those photos as the basis for his subsequent paintings of the sessions.

McCarron says she asked permission to take the photos while she was visiting, but didn’t know until years later that Wood had used them for paintings to sell commercially, and that he didn’t ask permission or tell her about this use of the photos she’d taken.


Ronnie Wood asserts, through legal documents, that he planned to produce works from the sessions, needed photos to work from and asked his sister-in-law to take some. He says she knew from the start how he was going to use them.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

McCarron first met Wood when she was aged 11, around 1976, when her older sister Jo was seeing the musician, whom she later married.

Years later, in September 1993, The Rolling Stones were working on the Voodoo Lounge album at Wood’s Kildare home, where the family and the band were staying.

McCarron, who was studying photography in London, says her sister Jo invited her over to help with cooking and logistics. Her boyfriend, sound engineer Eoghan McCarron (they later married), was working on the album there too.

Wood says – in a solicitor’s letter, seen by The Irish Times – that Lize McCarron was engaged by him, “principally as a nanny to look after the children”, but also “regularly carried out a large number of other services” for him, including cooking and shopping. He says she spent considerable time with his immediate family in the 1990s, particularly at their London homes.

Photographing the band

McCarron describes how, while in Kildare, “one evening I plucked up the courage and went into the studio [to ask if I could take some photos]. I asked Ronnie, then Keith and then Mick, who hilariously said ‘As long as you don’t use a flash’ – in my head, Jumping Jack Flash! So I put myself into a corner and shot away. It was before digital so I had just the analogue film camera. These pictures were an inside view that was different.”

She shot three rolls of photographs, and kept the negatives and contact sheets. The photos are gritty, unselfconscious, messy, authentic.

“The quality isn’t great, low-light long-exposure, but I was happy with them. Went back to England and printed off five of the best and signed them. I walked to Munro studios and gave them to Sherry Daly, their manager there, and asked her to give each member the five images as a thank-you.” She says she gave her brother-in-law some additional photos.

Wood’s take – via his lawyer’s response to a pre-action letter sent by McCarron’s lawyer – on the circumstances of the photographs is markedly different.

Before going to Kildare, the document says, he and his fine art printer Bernard Pratt discussed producing a series of works of the band in the Voodoo Lounge sessions. He needed photographs to work from, which “reflected his usual way of working”, and references “from which he could create his sketches afterwards”. His solicitors say the band wanted privacy, so McCarron “was asked to take the photographs”. Wood recalls she had her camera with her, had recently done a photography course and “as a member of our client’s family, the band were more relaxed about having her present”.

His lawyers’ letter says: “Your client agreed to take photographs of the band so that our client could later refer to them to create works of art for his new project. At all material times your client knew that our client would use the photographs in this way and that the resulting art would be sold commercially – that was the raison d’être for the photographs.”

His lawyers bluntly say her assertion that she “asked the band if she could take some photographs of them working in the studio is incorrect”.

When asked by The Irish Times about McCarron’s claim, Wood’s lawyers, the large London-based firm Enyo Law, said “we do not comment on confidential client matters such as this”. A comment was also sought from Wood himself.

Then there are the negatives. According to Wood’s lawyers’ response, Pratt recalls “he received negatives from the rolls of film” McCarron had shot, so he and Wood “could decide together which images to reference”. They write that Pratt still has contact sheets, adding that Wood says “any copies he got were not as a thank-you but to make the drawings”.

But McCarron is adamant she is the only person to have the negatives. She says soon after she gave each band member five hand-printed, signed photographs, “Ronnie asked to see the contact sheets so he could get some others printed. I gave him another set of contacts to look at, thinking he would order other prints from me.”

“A few years later, probably after 2000, I visited my sister in Kingston Surrey and saw a lithograph of one of my images [of Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger] framed on their wall,” says McCarron. “At that stage I’d married and moved to Ireland and had my first child. I said to my sister, oh wow, that’s my photograph. She said yes, Ronnie really liked your pictures. I believed it was a one-off, but didn’t realise for years that he had exhibitions, and hundreds of runs, from my photographs.”

According to her pre-action letter, sent by her lawyer Philip Noble, McCarron was aware of Wood’s painting methods. “She witnessed you using an epidiascope [an optical projector] to project photographs on to a screen to enable you to paint pictures from the outline. You never asked her whether you could use her photographs for that purpose.”

Wood makes clear the photographs form the basis for the paintings and drawings, but says they were taken with that intention. His lawyers describe his usual method of working, creating sketches from photos. He “created six original sketches referencing various shots from the photographs. Six etchings were then created from these six sketches, from which six editions [1,884 prints in total] were made”. Most were sold in 1993, some later, and about 400 remain unsold. In 2020, Wood and Pratt made three more editions.

A claim of ‘passing off’

In her pre-action letter sent by Noble in May 2021, McCarron made a claim against Wood for breach of copyright and passing off.

She claims she is the author of the photographs given to Wood and the owner of their copyright, which he infringed by copying and transposing them into paintings and limited-edition prints, and passing them off, without her licence or consent, as his own original drawings or sketches.

Several times in interviews and promotional material, Wood is described as having sketched the drawings in the recording studio.

For example, there is a note about a Wood’s Charlie & Keith Exercising 1993 (Rehearsal in Ireland Suite) on San Francisco Art Exchange (and elsewhere online): “While recording the Voodoo Lounge album at his home in Co Kildare, Ireland, Ronnie Wood has an unprecedented opportunity: to sketch the band members in a series of intimate, candid moments. From these sketches, Ronnie created the six images that make up the Stones’ Rehearsal in Ireland Suite.”

In a 2005 Belfast Telegraph interview about an exhibition, Wood talks about his artistic family, and going to art school: “Nowadays I draw people whenever I can, in the studio, in the control room – when I get a bit of time I just do a quick sketch. I go about drawing [them] in the same way I go about doing anyone. Some people get annoyed if they know I’m drawing them. I’ll say ‘stay like that’, but they won’t, so I have to get an average.” He says: “The Voodoo Lounge [pictures] were done in rehearsal. I sketched them quickly when they were just sitting there.”

A 1993 fold-out leaflet advertising Wood’s limited-edition prints of Stones Rehearsing in Ireland 1993 (Charlie & Mick Relaxing, Charlie & Ronnie at the country house, Mick with Guitar, Keith in Voodoo Lounge, Charlie and Keith exercising, Keith in Kildare) includes a photograph of Wood drawing. It reads: “Sketches for these six hand-coloured etchings were produced by Ronnie in 1993 whilst the Stones were rehearsing at his recording studios in Ireland in preparation for their new album and world tour.”

McCarron’s lawyer Noble said to The Irish Times: “Wood’s drawings are mirror images of Lize McCarron’s photographs taken during rehearsals of Voodoo Lounge in Ireland. Ronnie Wood does not appear to dispute that he copied the photographs. What is disputed is whether she agreed to take the photographs for Ronnie Wood and gave up her copyright in the pictures.

“Lize McCarron denies there was ever any discussion about her photographs being copied, and she never gave her permission for Wood to use her compositions or to represent them as his own taken from sketches made by him during rehearsals. She is adamant nothing was discussed about Wood copying her works or claiming that they were original works created by him. There is nothing in writing and nothing corroborates Wood’s claims, which she says are untrue.

“Wood claims McCarron agreed to take the photos for him and that she understood he would be free to use the pictures for his own profit. McCarron says she signed photographs for the whole band and gave them to each member as a memento. She denies there was ever any discussion or that she agreed to give up her copyright without any credit or payment. Nothing was put in writing and none of her family – including her sister, who was married to Wood – was aware of the arrangement.”

Wood’s legal correspondence states books with his prints were in his homes, where McCarron regularly visited, and he believes it highly likely she had seen them. He had no recollection of an incident where she noticed a painting taken from her photograph, in his house. The lawyers disputed her surprise, writing “at all material times your client knew that (i) this was the purpose for which the photographs were taken, (ii) prints had been created, and (iii) such prints were being sold commercially”.

Ronnie Wood’s response

Wood, through his lawyers, did not accept McCarron’s explanation for the delay in raising the claim for 28 years, “when she is no longer part of our client’s extended family, and no longer receives any financial remuneration from him”.

Enyo Law’s June 2021 response alleged deficiencies in her case and said Wood had not committed copyright infringement. They write that Wood accepted McCarron was the author of the photographs but said he alone had the right to use them as their purpose was “to enable our client to create works of art for commercial exploitation”. Though McCarron as author might be the owner of the legal title to the copyright, his lawyers asserted Wood was the owner of that copyright in equity, “and has a right in equity to an assignment of the legal title to the copyright from your client”.

In several pages of response his lawyers said “both claims are completely hopeless” as she had no “protectable goodwill”. They wrote that the public would not presume Wood had sketched the band members contemporaneously, as he was involved in the sessions. He didn’t accept the remedies she sought, nor that she had any valid claim. “Any proceedings will be rigorously defended,” the letter says; they would apply to have any claim struck out as abusive (because the long delay made a fair trial impossible) and would counterclaim if she issued proceedings.

Another issue raised in legal correspondence was whether Wood had previously settled two US claims for copying other photographs. His lawyers did not deny settlements but said in correspondence that the settlements contain strict confidentiality agreements; were “entirely irrelevant to this matter”; and that the payment amounts McCarron’s lawyer mentions were not correct.

Jamie Woods, Jo Wood’s son, and raised by Ron Wood from age one as part of their blended family, was later Ron Wood’s manager for a number of years. Jamie Wood recalls “I dealt with both claims” by photographers and detailed which paintings were related to them.

The Irish Times has seen McCarron’s particulars of claim, which have not yet been served, which indicate the case also relies “on the fact that many of the paintings sold as the original works were in fact created and painted by a different artist”. A person with knowledge of it told The Irish Times that the other artist, now deceased, contributed to Wood’s paintings.

In a letter to McCarron’s lawyer Philip Noble, Wood’s lawyer refers to how Wood has “on occasion employed an assistant, but that is common to many professional artists”, and they don’t see the relevance to McCarron’s claim.

What McCarron wants

Noble says now: “What Lize McCarron would like is to be given formal credit that these pictures were inspired by her photographs and copied from her compositions. She would like to be paid some part of the profits made by Wood over many years as a result of her work. She is extremely sad that Mr Wood is unwilling to give her the recognition she deserves. Given the substantial amount of personal profit made by Ronnie Wood, that is not asking much.”

The pre-action letter suggested profits from the paintings and prints could be worth millions, although only part of those profits would be recoverable because of a six-year limit for copyright breach.

McCarron, who now lives in England, says that after she took action, Wood’s lawyers offered her a very small one-off royalty, which was a fraction of earlier settlements. “They called it a meritless case and said I wouldn’t succeed. It was a mean and meagre offer, and I would have had to sign over all copyright for the photos to Ronnie – and keep it confidential.”

“His lawyers say his profits from the etchings and prints weren’t because of my creation or artistry, but because of his artistic skill and reputation. They said the scope for originality is limited in photography, especially because I didn’t create the rehearsal scene I photographed. But it’s not like a standard portrait of them. They were a different take on the average photograph. That’s why he obviously liked them. I was flattered that he liked them, but not to be totally ripped off by it all.”

Of the offer, she wonders “why would I accept this? But how can I afford to go to trial?”

Her lawyer says she needs considerable money to take him to court. She sees it as unfair. “What chance do I or other artists have when they are faced with that? His lawyers’ hourly rate would probably be more than what I would have liked to be paid for my images. And the fact that he was my brother-in-law since I was 12. Well, that’s another story.

“I have tried over the years to see if I can at least have some acknowledgment or payment. Over history this happens time and again. I feel so strongly about it and believe there should be justice not just for me but for all artists out there.

“Because he has the money to employ the best lawyers, artists who are mostly impoverished get the bad deal. I am amazed, as you would think that being a poor artist in their past they would help and encourage others. If you’re an artist – and he did have a time when he struggled – you must sometimes think to yourself, I should do some good for somebody else.

“I think people should know that this kind of thing still happens. If he had said and credited me at the start, then I wouldn’t be upset by all this. But to blatantly refuse to acknowledge or credit me and to promote the work as his own from live original sketches is outrageous.”

Wood continues to sell the prints through galleries and online, she says.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times