Supreme Court to Hear Case Over Andy Warhol’s Images of Prince
The Supreme Court has decided to review a case focused on whether pop art icon Andy Warhol infringed on a photographer’s copyright by creating silkscreens of Prince.
As CNN reports, Warhol Foundation attorneys brought the case to the Court, saying a lower court ruling against the late artist "threatens a sea change" in copyright law.
The case focuses on Warhol’s "Prince Series," which the Foundation says dates back to 1984, when Vanity Fair commissioned the artist to make an image of the musician for an article titled "Purple Fame" (appearing, of course, the same year as Prince’s album and film Purple Rain).
The magazine licensed a black and white photo taken in 1981 by Lynn Goldsmith, a well-known photographer whose work graced numerous album covers. Warhol, according to Foundation attorney Roman Martinez, produced the first image "using Goldsmith’s photograph as source material."
Martinez argued that Warhol "transformed" Goldsmith’s work through drastic shifts in tone, detail and lighting, commenting artistically "on the manner in which society encounters and consumes celebrity." Before his death in 1987, Warhol reportedly created 15 other Prince images based on the same photo; one from the series appeared on Vanity Fair’s Prince tribute issue in 2016, following the singer’s death.
Anticipating a lawsuit, the Warhol Foundation requested a "declaration of noninfringement" in 2017, and Goldsmith countersued for copyright infringement. A lower court ruled in 2019 that the usage was fair use, siding with Warhol as his work was "transformative" in nature.
As The New York Times reports, Judge John G. Koetl ruled that "each Prince series work is immediately recognizable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince — in the same way that Warhol’s famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognizable as ‘Warhols,’ not as realistic photographs of those persons.” A federal appeals court then reversed the decision.
CNN reports that the Supreme Court case will be heard next term.