Supreme Court copyright case examines Andy Warhol’s series of Prince images: NPR


A portrait of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith (left) in 1981 and 16 screen-printed images that Andy Warhol later created using the photo as a reference. A Federal District Court judge found that Warhol’s series is “transformative” because it conveys a different message than the original, and therefore constitutes fair use. A panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

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Supreme Court copyright case examines Andy Warhol's series of Prince images: NPR

A portrait of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith (left) in 1981 and 16 screen-printed images that Andy Warhol later created using the photo as a reference. A Federal District Court judge found that Warhol’s series is “transformative” because it conveys a different message than the original, and therefore constitutes fair use. A panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

United States Supreme Court Collection

You know all those famous Andy Warhol serigraphs of Marilyn Monroe, and Liz Taylor and lots of other sequins? Now one of the most famous of these, the Prince series, is at the heart of a case the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday. And this is a case of enormous importance for all kinds of artists.

On one side of the dispute is Lynn Goldsmith, famous for photographing rock stars and whose work has featured on more than 100 album covers. In 1981, Goldsmith was commissioned to take a series of photos of Prince for Newsweek. At the time, the Purple Rain rock star was just starting to take off. Goldsmith photographs him in concert and invites him to her studio where she offers him purple eyeshadow and lip gloss to accentuate his sensuality and androgyny. She even adjusted her photography umbrellas to create stings of light in her eyes. The result was an image she would later say was a portrait of vulnerability. Newsweek did not use the studio photo, opting instead to use the concert photo, and Goldsmith retained the other photos in its files for future publication or licensing.

Three years later, Prince was a superstar and vanity lounge The magazine commissioned Andy Warhol to do an illustration of Prince for an article he was publishing. In commissioning the work, the magazine asked Warhol to use one of Goldsmith’s black-and-white photos as a reference point. The magazine paid Goldsmith $400 in licensing fees and promised in writing to use the image only in it. vanity lounge publish.

There is no evidence in the record that Warhol was aware of the license agreement. But anyway, he went beyond that and created a set of 16 Prince serigraphs, which he copyrighted, and one of which vanity lounge used for the article. The screen-printed images have since been sold and reproduced for hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for the Andy Warhol Foundation, a non-profit organization established after Warhol’s death to promote his work and the visual arts.

After Warhol’s death in 2016, vanity loungeParent company Conde Nast accelerated a tribute, “The Genius of Prince”, featuring numerous photographs of Prince, and donated $10,250 to the Warhol Foundation to feature “Orange Prince” on its cover. Goldsmith received no payment or credit this time, and she eventually sued the foundation, claiming that Warhol infringed on her copyrights and that the foundation potentially owed her millions of dollars in unpaid license fees and royalties.

The foundation countered that Warhol not only copyrighted his iconic Prince series, but that his treatment was, in legal terms, “transformative” because its artistic rendering is vastly different from Goldsmith’s original photo. The foundation claimed that in Warhol’s version, Warhol not only cropped the image to remove Prince’s torso, but he resized the image, changed the angle of Prince’s face, and changed the tones, lighting and colors. details, in addition to adding layers of bright colors and unnatural colors, hand-drawn outlines and screens of lines, and sharp shadows that exaggerated Prince’s features.

The result, according to the foundation, is “a flat, impersonal, disembodied, mask-like appearance” that is no longer vulnerable but iconic. Essentially, the foundation argues that Warhol used a black-and-white photograph as a building block, the same way a collage artist might use slices of different photos in a larger work.

As you can imagine, each side has its experts and, indeed, two lower courts disagreed on the matter. A Federal District Court judge found that the Warhol series is “transformative” because it conveys a different message than the original, and is therefore: “fair use” under the Copyright Act. But a three-judge Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel disagreed, saying judges “should not take on the role of art critic and seek to determine…the meaning of works.” in question”. If the Supreme Court agrees, the Warhol Foundation will have to pay royalties or license fees, and potentially other damages to the original creator, Lynn Goldsmith.

Whatever the decision of the Supreme Court, its decision will have far-reaching practical consequences. It is therefore not surprising that some three dozen briefs from friends of the court were filed arguing one side or the other, and representing everyone from the American Association of Publishers and the Motion Picture Association of America to the Library Futures Institute, the Digital Media Licensing Association, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the Recording Industry Association of America, and even the union that represents NPR journalists, editors and producers, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

The result could change the law to favor greater control by the original artist, but it could also inhibit artists and other content creators who build on existing work in everything from music and posters to AI creations and documentaries.


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