Supreme Court rules against Warhol Foundation over Prince copyright


In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York City. A federal appeals court sided with a photographer on Friday, March 26, 2021, in her copyright dispute over how a foundation commercialized a series of Andy’s artworks. Warhol based on his photos of Prince.

Richard Drew | PA

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday against Andy Warhol Foundation in a copyright dispute over the use of a famous photographer’s image of musician Prince for artwork created by Warhol.

The court ruled 7-2 in favor of the photographer, Lynn Goldsmith, who owns the copyright to her 1981 Prince photo, which was published at the time in Newsweek magazine. Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion.

Judge Elena Kagan wrote a dissent to the decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined her.

Goldsmith had sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for copyright infringement after the foundation licensed an image called Orange Prince, which uses the musician’s image of Goldsmith, to Conde Nast, the parent company of Vanity Fair magazine, in 2016 Orange Prince is one of 16 Warhol serigraphs based on his photo.

In 1984, Goldsmith granted a limited license to Vanity Fair for the one-time use of the photo as the basis for a Warhol serigraph, which was used to illustrate an article on Prince that year.

Musician Prince performs onstage at the 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, March 19, 2005.

Getty Images

A federal district court rules that the Andy Warhol Foundation did not infringe Goldsmith’s copyright when relicensing the image in 2016, citing derivative applications of artwork as fair use , but that decision was overturned by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court, in its decision on Thursday, considered the sole question of whether the Warhol Foundation’s allegation of the so-called fair use of the photo was sufficient to defend against Goldsmith’s allegation of violation of law. copyright, because Warhol’s work was “transformative” and conveyed a different meaning. or message as the original photo.

“Lynn Goldsmith’s original works, like those of other photographers, are entitled to copyright protection, even against famous artists,” the Supreme Court said in the majority opinion. “This protection includes the right to prepare derivative works that transform the original.”

The notice goes on to say, “The use of a copyrighted work may nevertheless be fair if,
inter alia, the use is sufficiently distinct in purpose and character from the original.”

“In this case, however, Goldsmith’s original photograph of Prince and AWF’s use of that photograph in a licensed special-edition magazine image devoted to Prince essentially share the same purpose and the use is of a commercial nature.”

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