Warhol’s use of Prince’s photo (taken by Lynn Goldsmith) was not entitled to fair use. In a David versus Goliath battle, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling against Andy Warhol’s Foundation last week.

SCOTUS: No “Fair Use” Defense in Warhol Use of Prince Photograph

SCOTUS found that Andy Warhol’s commercial use of Goldsmith’s photograph of Prince did not entitle the Foundation to a fair use defense to copyright infringement. The Court found that Goldsmith’s earlier photo and Andy Warhol’s use served the same commercial purpose – as a magazine illustration. Goldsmith’s photo can be found here, as well as Warhol’s commercial use.

Art Law in Session

Warhol Prince Photo

To illustrate, Vanity Fair paid the Andy Warhol Foundation $10,000 to use his work (which borrowed significantly from Goldsmith’s photo), while People paid Goldsmith $1,000 for her image.

Fair Use and Warhol’s Use of the Prince Photo

Some commentators state that the ruling constrains the “fair use” doctrine going forward.

I am not so sure. Take a look a the illustration above. Can we say in good faith that it is “transformative”? In my opinion, no. Warhol’s use of the Prince photo is not sufficiently original to Goldsmith’s photo.

Andy Warhol used photographs from other artists to make a statement regarding mass production. He gained notoriety because of how close he walked the line between outright plagiarism and transformative art. And Warhol often cited “mass production” as a justification for his artwork. That played a significant role in Warhol’s use of the Prince photo in this particular case.

The Copyright Framework

Copyright law is a legal framework that grants exclusive rights to creators and owners of original creative works. It aims to protect their intellectual property from unauthorized use, reproduction, or distribution.

Basically, copyright law ensures that creators have control over how their work is used and that others cannot simply copy or steal it without permission. It encourages creativity and incentivizes people to invest their time, effort, and resources into producing new and original works.

What likely happened here is that Warhol’s use of the Prince photograph flew too close to Goldsmith’s work. He effectively usurped an opportunity similar in nature and scope–publication in a magazine.

If you would like a consultation about your copyright, please feel free to contact us.

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