Jul 2, 2019

Andy Warhol’s portraits of Prince were deemed a case of fair use.

A federal judge in New York has sided with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in a copyright dispute over the late Pop artist’s series of portraits of the musician Prince. The 16 paintings, prints, and drawings, collectively known as the “Prince Series,” were based on a 1981 photograph taken by Lynn Goldsmith. Shortly after Prince’s death in 2016, Goldsmith learned of the series’ existence from seeing the Warhol works based on her photo posted on the internet. In 2017, the Warhol Foundation filed a preemptive lawsuit against Goldsmith, who in turn accused the foundation of violating her copyright.
In his decision on Monday, Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that Warhol’s “Prince Series” constituted fair use. In his decision, quoted by the New York Times, Judge Koeltl added:
The Prince Series works can reasonably be perceived to have transformed Prince from a vulnerable, uncomfortable person to an iconic, larger-than-life figure. [. . .] The humanity Prince embodies in Goldsmith’s photograph is gone. Moreover, each Prince series work is immediately recognizable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince.
Barry Werbin, an attorney for Goldsmith, told the Times that they plan to appeal, adding that the decision “continues the gradual erosion of photographers’ rights in favor of famous artists who affix their names to what would otherwise be a derivative work of the photographer and claim fair use by making cosmetic changes.”

Further Reading: Art Copyright, Explained

Further Reading: When Does an Artist’s Appropriation Become Copyright Infringement?