In The News

Fair use or copyright infringement?

Andy Warhol's silkscreen prints from his Prince series, circa 1984, are based on a photograph by Lynn Goldsmith.
Andy Warhol’s silkscreen prints from his “Prince” series are based on a photograph by Lynn Goldsmith.

PURPLE FAME
In 2019, a federal judge ruled in favor of Andy Warhol and the foundation established after his death regarding the “Prince Series” of screenprints he made for Vanity Fair in 1984.

For $400, Vanity Fair licensed one of photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s black-and-white studio portraits of Prince from December 1981 and commissioned Warhol to create an illustration of Prince for an article published in November of 1984. He made 16 pieces in total. Goldsmith objected and sued.

However, Warhol transcended the photographer’s copyright by transforming a picture of a vulnerable and uncomfortable Prince into an artwork that made the singer an “iconic, larger-than-life figure,” the judge decided. The ruling was appealed by Goldsmith, “a pioneering photographer known for unique portraits of famous musicians,” and the case landed at the Supreme Court, where arguments have been heard. The court’s decision will likely be made public next year, in June of 2023.

Such cases fascinate me. Remember when artist Shepard Fairey was sued by the Associated Press for using a photograph of Barack Obama as the basis for his famous HOPE poster? That case was, thankfully, settled out of court. Who wants to be in protracted court proceedings for years and years? We have to wait and see what the court decides in the Goldsmith versus Warhol case.