Andy Warhol-Prince Case Is Heading to the Supreme Court

Lynn Goldsmith's photo of Prince is at the center of the case

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol photographed in 1968 at the Factory at 33 Union Square West.
Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

In 1981, photographer Lynn Goldsmith took a photograph of Prince that was later licensed to Vanity Fair. Andy Warhol used that photograph as the basis for a series of paintings he made of the musician in question, known as the Prince Series. Goldsmith went on to sue the Andy Warhol Foundation. The Warhol Foundation won the case, but Goldsmith appealed and won that.

And now, the reckoning between the two is headed for the highest court in the land. The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case — which is likely to have a massive impact on the concept of “fair use” as it relates to copyright and copyright infringement.

In the 2019 case, Judge John G. Koeltl ruled in the Foundation’s favor, arguing that Warhol had changed Goldsmith’s photograph enough that it became a distinct work of art all its own. The appeals court that reversed the decision made the opposite argument, stating that Warhol’s painting “retains the essential elements of the Goldsmith photograph without significantly adding to or altering those elements.”

Warhol is far from the only visual artist to draw inspiration from an existing work or art or document. And it begs the question of what effect the ruling might have on countless artists who have followed in Warhol’s footsteps and might suddenly find themselves open to an array of lawsuits. A 2021 article in The Art Newspaper offers a deeper look into some of these issues.

This isn’t the only legal case playing out right now that could have a significant impact on artists working in a host of disciplines. But its presence on the Supreme Court’s docket makes its implications especially massive.

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