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Goldsmith's photograph, left, and Warhol's portrait, right, with markings from court filings.
Goldsmith's photograph, left, and Warhol's portrait, right, with markings from court filings.

Judge Rules in Favor of Warhol Foundation in Copyright Lawsuit Over Prince Portraits

A New York federal judge ruled yesterday that Andy Warhol’s 1984 portrait series of Prince does not violate the copyright of photographer Lynn Goldsmith, who initiated the suit in 2017. According to court papers, Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that Warhol’s works fall under fair use because they are “transformative” of Goldsmith’s original 1981 photo and “add something new to the world of art,” reports the Art Newspaper.

Goldsmith claimed Warhol’s work was an appropriation of her 1981 photograph of the pop star, which she granted a one-time license to be used as source material for a Vanity Fair artist illustration. In addition to the work for Vanity Fair, Warhol produced fifteen more portraits of Prince, twelve of which have been sold and four of which are in the Andy Warhol Museum. Following Prince’s death in 2016, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts licensed one of the portraits to Condé Nast for $10,000, for a magazine cover dedicated to the late musician.

The photographer argued that Warhol’s fabrication of the fifteen other versions, as well as the foundation’s licensing of all sixteen portraits, violated copyright law that grants her exclusive rights to reproduce, exhibit, and distribute works based on the photograph. She argued that ruling in favor of the foundation would destroy commercial photographers’ licensing markets and “give a free pass to appropriation artists.”

Meanwhile, the Warhol Foundation maintained that the series qualified as fair use and urged the court to “stay on the right side of history” by rejecting Goldsmith’s “effort to trample on the First Amendment and stifle artistic creativity.”

Monday’s ruling states that a consideration of fair-use factors “points decidedly in favor” of the Warhol Foundation. The Art Newspaper reports the foundation is demanding financial retribution to cover the cost of the suit. Goldsmith has until July 10 to submit any objections—her lawyer promises to appeal.