Lawsuit Over Warhol’s Portraits of Prince Fuels Debate Over Art and Appropriation

The Andy Warhol Foundation and photographer Lynn Goldsmith both filed cross-motions for summary judgment in a Manhattan federal court last Friday, October 12, reports the Art Newspaper. Raising questions about artistic appropriation, the lawsuit in question began last year and concerns Warhol’s 1984 portrait series of Prince, which Goldsmith claims was derived from her photograph of the pop star from 1981, and which she granted a one-time license to be used as source material for an artist illustration for Vanity Fair. In addition to the illustration for Vanity Fair, Warhol produced fifteen other portraits of Prince, twelve of which have sold and four of which are in the Andy Warhol Museum. In 2016, following Prince’s death, the Warhol Foundation licensed one of them to Condé Nast for $10,000 for a magazine cover dedicated to the late musician.

Goldsmith contends that Warhol’s creation of the fifteen other versions, as well as the foundation’s licensing of all sixteen, violate copyright law that grants her exclusive rights to reproduce, exhibit, and distribute works based on the photograph. Ruling in favor of the foundation, she argues, would destroy commercial photographers’ licensing markets and “give a free pass to appropriation artists,” reports the Art Newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Andy Warhol Foundation has maintained that the images qualify as fair use, urging the court to “stay on the right side of history” and reject Goldsmith’s “effort to trample on the First Amendment and stifle artistic creativity.”