Supreme Court to hear copyright battle over Andy Warhol's Prince footage

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Andy Warhol violated copyright law by drawing on a photograph for a serie...


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Andy Warhol violated copyright law by drawing on a photograph for a series of images of musician Prince.

The case will test the scope of the fair use defense against copyright infringement and how to assess whether a new work based on an old one has significantly transformed it.

The black and white image used by Warhol was taken in 1981 by Lynn Goldsmith, a prominent photographer whose work has appeared on more than 100 album covers.

Ms Goldsmith licensed the image to Vanity Fair as part of a 1984 article, and Warhol altered it in various ways, including cropping and coloring it to create what his foundation’s lawyers described as “a flat, impersonal, disembodied, mask-like appearance”. .”

The accompanying image an article titled “Purple Fame” and appeared around the time of Prince’s album “Purple Rain”.

Before Warhol’s death in 1987, he created 15 other images of Prince by drawing on the same photograph. When Prince died in 2016, Vanity Fair published a special issue celebrating his life and used one of these images, alerting Ms Goldsmith to the existence of the other works.

Litigation ensued, largely over whether Warhol altered Ms. Goldsmith’s photograph, an issue that figures into the fair dealing analysis. the The Supreme Court said that a work is transformative if it “adds something new, with an additional purpose or different character, modifying the former with new expression, meaning or message”.

In 2019, Judge John G. Koeltl of the Federal District Court of Manhattan ruled for the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which owns Warhol’s copyright to the images, saying the artist transformed the musician depicted in Ms Goldsmith’s photograph “from a vulnerable and uncomfortable person to an iconic figure , larger than life. ”

“The humanity that Prince embodies in Goldsmith’s photograph is gone,” Judge Koeltl wrote. “Furthermore, each work in the Prince series is instantly recognizable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than a photograph of Prince – in the same way that Warhol’s famous depictions of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognizable as ‘Warhols’, and not like realistic photographs of these people.”

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York, reversed Judge Koeltl’s decision.

“The district judge should not assume the role of art critic and seek to determine the intent or meaning of the works in question”, Judge Gerard E. Lynch wrote for the panel. “This is so both because judges are generally not adept at making aesthetic judgments and because such perceptions are inherently subjective.”

The judge’s task, Judge Lynch wrote, is to assess whether the subsequent work “remains both recognizably deriving from and retaining essential elements of its source material”. Warhol’s Prince series, Judge Lynch wrote, “retains the essential elements of Goldsmith’s photography without significantly adding or altering those elements”.

It was irrelevant that the new images were immediately recognizable as Warhols, Judge Lynch wrote.

“Maintaining this logic would inevitably create celebrity-plagiarist privilege; the more established the artist and the more distinct that artist’s style, the more leeway the artist would have to steal the creative work of others,” he wrote.

Warhol Foundation Lawyers told the Supreme Court that her Prince series transformed Ms Goldsmith’s photographs into “commenting on fame and consumerism”.

The Second Circuit’s approach, they wrote, “will chill artistic expression and undermine First Amendment values,” “threatens sweeping change in copyright law,” and “casts a cloud of uncertainty.” over a whole genre of visual art”.

Lawyers for Mrs. Goldsmith wrote that “Warhol’s serigraphs shared the same purpose as Goldsmith’s copyrighted photograph and retained the essential artistic elements of Goldsmith’s photograph.”

The Second Circuit’s decision was routine and limited, they wrote, urging judges to deny the foundation’s motion for a review of the case, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts vs. Goldsmith, No. 21-869. The foundation’s attorneys, they wrote, “are taking a Chicken-Little approach to the decision below, but the sky is not about to fall.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Supreme Court to hear copyright battle over Andy Warhol's Prince footage
Supreme Court to hear copyright battle over Andy Warhol's Prince footage
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