SCOTUS Weighs Arguments Between Art, Theft in Warhol Case

SCOTUS will hear arguments Wednesday surrounding a copyright dispute between the late artist Andy Warhol's estate and celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith over paintings that are based on a 1981 photograph she took of the rock star Prince.

SCOTUS Weighs Arguments Between Art, Theft in Warhol Case
Image credit: Mingjun Liu / Unsplash

Facts

  • SCOTUS will hear arguments Wednesday surrounding a copyright dispute between the late artist Andy Warhol's estate and celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith over paintings that are based on a 1981 photograph she took of the rock star Prince.
  • Goldsmith has claimed that Warhol's silkscreen image of Prince was based too closely on her photograph, whereas Warhol's foundation has argued the artwork falls under the fair use doctrine.
  • The Second Circuit federal appeals court rejected the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts' fair use claim. The court ruled Warhol's works failed all four of the required fair use tests under US copyright law.
  • Goldsmith was paid a $400 licensing fee for the photo by Vanity Fair, which then asked Warhol to use the photo as his basis for an illustration. Vanity Fair then used Warhol’s image in its magazine instead of Goldsmith’s photo, paying Warhol’s foundation $10,250.
  • On her website, Goldsmith has described her case as a “crusade” to ensure “copyright law does not become so diluted by the definition of fair use that visual artists lose the rights to their work.”

Sources: Newsbud, USA Today, Art Newspaper, Scotusblog, and okayplayer.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by Atlantic. Warhol's use of the image was fair use, and although Goldsmith has a reason to be frustrated, her litigation is going too far. This case threatens to diminish an established doctrine that allows artists the right to creative expression by building on established works in a reasonable manner.
  • Narrative B, as provided by Artnet News. Warhol’s work should not be able to compete with Goldsmith’s original photo in the marketplace, and she had a right to share in the license of any of Warhol’s works that used hers as inspiration. There has been too much devaluing of artists, particularly photographers, by social media. Print media shouldn’t be contributing to this problem.