Even Andy Warhol Can Violate a Photographer’s Copyright

Sergei Bachlakov / shutterstock.com
Sergei Bachlakov / shutterstock.com

Back in 2016 when Prince died, Vanity Fair published a memorial piece about this piece of Minneapolis history. Rather than publish new works or fresh artists, the publication turned to the Andy Warhol collection. Back in 1984, they had commissioned him to do a piece for their article “Purple Fame” to coincide with the release of “Purple Rain” by Prince.

When Warhol did this piece in 84, they commissioned photographs of the musician from famed artist photographer Lynn Goldsmith whose portrait works have gained worldwide acclaim for their style. With a $400 license for her 1981 black-and-white portrait as a reference, they had their piece for the magazine, along with 15 others Warhol had done. Following his death, 12 of those 16 pieces were sold off at auction.

In the 2016 edition memorializing his death, parent company Conde Nast ran a new piece from the Warhol series but did not speak with Goldsmith for a second use of her work as inspiration. While they handed the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts roughly $10,000 for his work, Goldsmith received nothing.

As a result, she took the mega-publisher to court over the “fair use” of the image. While a district court ruled in favor of Warhol, a subsequent court reversed that decision. Sending this to the US Supreme Court, they returned a 7-2 ruling that Warhol did not transform the painting enough to be considered an independent work of art.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in the ruling that Goldsmith’s original works, like those of other photographers, are entitled to copyright protection, “even against famous artists.”

This represents a huge victory for photographers across the globe. For ages, their works have been picked up and reused as another artist’s work, with little to nothing coming back to the original photographer. That’s not how true art is made, and that’s also a subsequent copyright violation as affirmed by the US Supreme Court.