Copyright Infringement

U.S. Supports Photographer in Andy Warhol Copyright Case

The U.S. government has agreed with the Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a high-profile copyright infringement lawsuit between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation. The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing the case, which involves the rights of the renowned photographer to pursue a copyright infringement lawsuit regarding Andy Warhol’s paintings of her photograph of musical icon Prince.

According to the brief, which was filed by the U.S. Copyright Office and the Solicitor General of the U.S. Department of Justice, Warhol’s use of Goldsmith’s photo was not “fair use” under copyright law.

The Andy Warhol Foundation’s attorney maintains that the fair use doctrine protects “free artistic expression” that includes Warhol’s artistic works in question. The Foundation, owners of Warhol’s intellectual property rights, will present its arguments in October to the high court.

Goldsmith’s photos of Prince from 1981 were taken for Newsweek, and Warhol later created several unlicensed paintings that were recreations of one of these photographs.

According to Goldsmith, she was unaware of Warhol’s paintings until after Prince died. In 2017, a year after the musician’s death, Goldsmith accused the Foundation of copyright infringement. This followed the organization asking a federal court in Manhattan to rule that the painter’s work did not infringe her rights.

While the Manhattan judge ruled that Warhol’s use of Goldsmith’s Prince photo fell under the category of “fair use,” as they transformed a vulnerable depiction of the star into an iconic figure, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It was their judgment that a transformative work (the stipulation for the fair use clause) must have a significantly different artistic character and purpose, and Warhol’s work presented the same work in a new form.

The U.S. government agreed with the Circuit Court’s opinion. It is their belief that a finding in favor of Warhol could make it easier for copyists to make use of artists’ existing works.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on October 12 in the U.S. Supreme Court case, No. 21-869, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc v. Goldsmith.

Reuters – August 16, 2022 – Blake Brittain

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