US Supreme Court rules Andy Warhol image violated copyright

·2 min read
Andy Warhol in the 1980s
Andy Warhol in the 1980s

The US Supreme Court has ruled Andy Warhol's painting of the singer Prince infringed on the copyright of the original photographer's work.

In 2016, Vanity Fair published a Prince tribute which featured Warhol's image but no credit or payment was given to the photographer, Lynn Goldsmith.

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The crux of the case was whether or not Warhol's work falls under fair-use laws.

The court ruled his work did not fall under these laws by seven votes to two.

The Andy Warhol Foundation argued that his work was sufficiently transformative from Goldsmith's photo, which the painting was based on.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote Goldsmith's "original works, like those of other photographers, are entitled to copyright protection, even against famous artists".

Visitors look at a 1993 photograph of musician Prince by Lynn Goldsmith at the Smithsonians National Portrait Gallery on April 22, 2016 in Washington, DC
Goldsmith's 1981 photograph of Prince, seen here in a later image taken by her, was modified by Warhol

Justice Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr dissented, saying this would "make our world poorer" and "impede new art and music and literature".

In 1984, Vanity Fair asked Andy Warhol to create a piece they could pair with an article titled Purple Fame - coinciding with when Prince's song Purple Rain was released.

At the time, the magazine agreed to credit photographer Goldsmith, known for portraits of rock-and-roll stars including Mick Jagger, and paid her $400 to license her 1981 black-and-white portrait as an artist reference.

Vanity Fair ran one of the 16 altered photographs Warhol created.

Following Warhol's death, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts assumed ownership of the series and sold 12 of the 16 original paintings, according to CBS News.

Vanity Fair published an edition honouring Prince following his death in 2016 and used a new image from Warhol's series.

The parent company, Condé Nast, did not pay or credit Goldsmith at the time but the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was paid about $10,000 (£8,056) for the new image.

The main issue of the case was the clause of "fair use" in copyright law, which allows the use of copyright-protected works in some instances.

The law also takes into account whether the work is for commercial or non-commercial use.

A district court had ruled in favour of Warhol, but an appeals court reversed that ruling.