US Supreme Court Fights Copyright Over Prince Warhol’s Paintings


WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) – In a case that could help clarify when and how artists can use the work of others, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide a copyright dispute between a photographer and the estate of Andy Warhol about Warhol in 1984. paintings by rock star Prince.

Judges upheld the Andy Warhol Foundation’s appeal against a lower court ruling that its paintings – based on a photo of Prince that photographer Lynn Goldsmith took for Newsweek magazine in 1981 – were unprotected by the copyright doctrine known as fair use. This doctrine permits unlicensed use of copyrighted works under certain circumstances.

Goldsmith, 74, sued Warhol’s estate for infringement in 2017 over Warhol’s unauthorized paintings of Prince after the estate asked a federal court in Manhattan to find that his works did not violate his rights. Warhol, who died in 1987, often based his art on photographs.

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Goldsmith, who said she only learned of the unlicensed works after Prince’s death in 2016, asked the court to stop Warhol’s estate from further using her work and for a fee. indefinite damages.

A judge has ruled that Warhol’s works are protected against Goldsmith’s infringement claims by the doctrine of fair use, finding that they transform Goldsmith’s portrayal of Prince as a “vulnerable human being” by depicting him as a “iconic figure, larger than life”.

After Goldsmith challenged the ruling, the New York-based US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last year found that Warhol’s paintings had not made fair use of the photo, allowing Goldsmith’s case to continue.

The 2nd Circuit decided that a transformative work should have a “fundamentally different and new artistic purpose and character”, and that Warhol’s paintings were “much closer to presenting the same work in a different form”.

The Andy Warhol Foundation in December asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 2nd Circuit’s decision, arguing that it created “a cloud of legal uncertainty” for an entire genre of art like Warhol’s.

Warhol Foundation lawyer Roman Martinez said he welcomes the High Court’s decision to hear the case and hopes it “will recognize that Andy Warhol’s transformative works of art are fully protected by law”.

Goldsmith said in a statement provided by one of her lawyers that she looks forward to continuing her legal fight in the Supreme Court.

“Five years ago, the Foundation sued me to get them to use my photograph without asking my permission or paying me anything for my work. I fought this lawsuit to protect not only my own rights, but the rights of all photographers and visual artists to make a living by licensing their creative work – and also to decide when, how, and even whether to exploit their creative work or allow others to do so” , Goldsmith said.

The Supreme Court addressed the issue of copyright fair use last year in a decision finding that the use of Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) software code by Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) Google in its Android operating system was protected.

In a 1994 Supreme Court ruling on fair use involving artistic creation, judges found that the rap group 2 Live Crew’s parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” made fair use of the song from Orbison.

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Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and David Bario

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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