The copyright dispute over the paintings of pop artist Andy Warhol


The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a copyright dispute between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation over Warhol’s paintings of rock star Prince

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a copyright dispute between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation over Warhol’s paintings of rock star Prince.

The Supreme Court will decide whether pop-art legend Warhol infringed the copyright of photographer Lynn Goldsmith when creating one of his iconic series of paintings.

The judges took up the Andy Warhol Foundation’s appeal against a lower court ruling that its paintings were not protected by the copyright doctrine known as “fair use”.

The doctrine of “fair use” permits the unlicensed use of copyrighted works in certain circumstances.

In 1984 Warhol made a series of paintings based on a 1981 photograph Goldsmith had taken of pop star Prince.

Let’s find out more about paintings, photography and the copyright case:

Where did it all start?

In 1984, Goldsmith allowed one of his photographs of Prince to Vanity Fair to be used as a reference in an illustration. The photographs were then passed on to Warhol, who used his signature process to create a new version of the original image. The Warhol version of the photograph was later used by Vanity Fair in its print issue and credited it to Goldsmith.

During this time, Warhol also created over a dozen other versions of the photograph, known as the Prince series in the art world.

The Prince series includes 14 serigraphs and two pencil illustrations.

Paintings created by Andy Warhol. Image courtesy of US District Court/The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Goldsmith claimed that all of this happened without his knowledge. She learned of this alleged copyright infringement when Prince died in 2016 and Vanity Fair used one of the Warhol versions for its memorial cover for the singer.

After seeing a version of his work on the cover of Vanity Fair, Goldsmith approached the Warhol Foundation and threatened legal action for copyright infringement.

In response, the Foundation sued Goldsmith in federal court, seeking a ruling that it had not violated any copyright laws.

The legal battle – round 1

In 2019, New York Southern District Judge John G Koeltl granted summary judgment in favor of the Warhol Foundation.

The district court found Warhol’s Prince series to be “transformative” because, while the photo portrays Prince as “a vulnerable human being”, the Prince series portrays him as an “iconic, larger-than-life figure.”

He noted that an observer would perceive that Warhol’s work has “a different character, a new expression, and employs a new aesthetic with [distinct] creative and communicative results” compared to Goldsmith’s original.

Goldsmith then asked the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to review Koeltl’s decision.

The legal battle – round 2

The Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and sided with Goldsmith.

The 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New York, found that Warhol’s paintings did not make fair use of the picture.

He decided that a transformative work should have a “fundamentally different and new artistic purpose and character” and that Warhol’s paintings were “much closer to presenting the same work in a different form”.

In December last year, the Warhol Foundation asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Second Circuit’s decision, saying it created “a cloud of legal uncertainty” for an entire genre of art like Warhol’s. .

With contributions from agencies

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