US Supreme Court takes on Andy Warhol copyright dispute, World News

WASHINGTON — In heated arguments that touched on the meaning of art and referenced famous movies, TV shows and paintings, U.S. Supreme Court justices faced a dispute Wednesday, Oct. 12 over copyright between a photographer and the estate of Andy Warhol over paintings by the acclaimed artist of rock star Prince.

The court heard about two hours of arguments in a case that could help draw the boundaries of artistic works that rely on other materials.

The Andy Warhol Foundation has appealed a lower court ruling that its 1984 paintings – based on a 1981 photo of Prince taken by famed photographer Lynn Goldsmith for Newsweek magazine – were not protected by a doctrine copyright called fair use which allows certain uses without a copyright license. protected works.

A key factor considered by courts for fair dealing is whether the new work has a “transformative” purpose such as parody, education, or criticism. Some judges expressed skepticism of the lower court’s ruling that judges should not consider the meaning of an artistic work to determine fair use.

“The purpose of any copyright law is to foster creativity, Judge Elena Kagan said.

“So why shouldn’t we ask,” Kagan added, if a work is truly creative and “something new and entirely different”?


Kagan noted that a 2021 Supreme Court ruling on software fair use cited Warhol as “an example of how someone can take an original work and make something completely different out of it, and that’s is exactly what the doctrine of fair use seeks to protect”.

Warhol, who died in 1987, was a central figure in the pop art movement born in the 1950s. Warhol often created screen-printed paintings and other works inspired by photos of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley as well as consumer products , works of considerable artistic and monetary value.

He produced 14 serigraphs and two pencil illustrations inspired by Goldsmith’s photograph.

Chief Justice John Roberts said Warhol’s work “sends a message about the depersonalization of modern culture and celebrity status”.

“It’s a different lens (from the photo),” Roberts said. “One is a commentary on modern society, the other is to show what Prince is like.”

Mona Lisa and Jaws

The arguments referred to various artistic creations, some adapted and some not.

These included Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century Mona Lisa painting, the 1975 film Jaws, the 1970s and 1980s television shows All in the Family and The Jeffersons, the artist’s 20th century abstract paintings Dutch Piet Mondrian, the Lord of the Rings books and movies, and even Syracuse University Sporting Goods.


Some judges worried about the stakes for creators of material that inspires other works, suggesting their eventual ruling, expected by the end of June, would take that into account.

The case could have wide implications for artists as well as the entertainment industry. The judges questioned whether Warhol’s use of Goldsmith’s work was more like a film adaptation of a book, which normally requires a license.

“I think filmmakers might be surprised by the idea that what they’re doing can’t be fundamentally transformative,” Kagan said. “So why can’t we imagine that Hollywood can just take a book and make a movie out of it without paying?”

Judge Clarence Thomas noted that he was a fan of Prince in the 1980s.

“Not anymore?” Judge Kagan intervened mischievously.

“Well, only Thursday night,” Thomas replied to laughter from the audience.

“But let’s say I’m also a Syracuse (Orange) fan and I decide to do one of those big enlarged posters of (Warhol’s) Orange Prince” and “put ‘Go Orange’ underneath. Do you want me to prosecute?” Thomas asked estate attorney Roman Martinez.

Goldsmith, 74, said she only learned of Warhol’s unauthorized works after Prince died in 2016. She sued Warhol’s estate for copyright infringement after asking a federal court in Manhattan to rule that his works did not violate his rights. A judge found that Warhol’s works were protected by fair use, having transformed the “vulnerable” musician seen in Goldsmith’s work into an “iconic, larger-than-life figure”.

The Manhattan-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision last year.

The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on fair use in art since 1994, when it found that rap group 2 Live Crew’s parody of singer Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman was fair use. 1960s song.

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