The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the late pop artist Andy Warhol violated the copyright of photographer Lynn Goldsmith when he used her photo of Prince to create a series of silk screens.
The 7-2 decision affirmed the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that Warhol’s works were not transformative enough to qualify for the fair use doctrine, which allows the unlicensed use of copyrighted works in certain circumstances.
The case has implications for artists who use existing works as a basis for new creations, as well as for photographers who seek to protect their original works from unauthorized appropriation.
Goldsmith took the photo of Prince in 1981 for Newsweek magazine. In 1984, Vanity Fair commissioned Warhol to create a portrait of Prince based on Goldsmith’s photo and paid her $400 for a one-time license. Warhol, however, made 16 images of Prince in his signature style, using different colors and effects. One of them, titled Orange Prince, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2016 after Prince’s death.
Goldsmith sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (AWF), which owns Warhol’s works, for copyright infringement. AWF argued that Warhol’s works were transformative and fair use, because they added new meaning and expression to Goldsmith’s photo.
The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Warhol’s works shared the same purpose and commercial nature as Goldsmith’s photo. “Both are portraits of Prince used in magazines to illustrate stories about Prince,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.
She added that Warhol’s works did not alter the original photo enough to make them “plainly different” from Goldsmith’s work. “Warhol retained the essential elements of Goldsmith’s photograph — Prince’s face and head — while removing or altering other elements,” she wrote.
Justice Elena Kagan dissented, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts. She argued that Warhol’s works were transformative and fair use, because they commented on celebrity and consumerism. She said that Warhol’s works “look nothing like Goldsmith’s photograph” and “convey a message entirely different from hers.”
She warned that the majority’s decision would “stifle creativity of every sort” and “make our world poorer.” She suggested that the majority needed to “go back to school” for an art history lesson.
Goldsmith said she was “grateful” for the Supreme Court’s decision, which she said “protects the interests of all photographers and visual artists from having their work stolen by famous artists.”
AWF said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, which it said “undermines well-established fair use principles that are essential to free expression.” It said it would continue to defend Warhol’s legacy and support artists’ rights.
- Supreme Court rules against Andy Warhol in copyright dispute over Prince portrait | MSN | May 18, 2023
- Supreme Court rules against Andy Warhol’s foundation in a case about a portrait he made of Prince | ABC News | May 18, 2023
- Supreme Court rules against Andy Warhol in copyright case with implications for artists | MSN | May 18, 2023