Back in 2017, the estate of Andy Warhol launched a preemptive strike against photographer Lynn Goldsmith over Warhol’s series based on her photo of Prince. They hoped to prevent any future legal challenges from her, considering that Warhol was “inspired” by her image. However, the U.S. appeals court sided with the photographer on Friday, ruling that Warhol’s Prince series was not transformative and that it could not overcome copyright obligations to Goldsmith.
You’ve probably come across Andy Warhol’s artworks of Prince. The series of 16 artworks was based on a photo Goldsmith took in 1981. The series contained 12 silkscreen paintings, two screenprints on paper, and two drawings, AP explains. In a statement, Goldsmith said that said estate of Andy Warhol wanted to “use [her] photograph without asking [her] permission or paying [her] anything for [her] work.”
“I fought this suit to protect not only my own rights, but the rights of all photographers and visual artists to make a living by licensing their creative work — and also to decide when, how, and even whether to exploit their creative works or license others to do so.”
Judge Gerard E. Lynch wrote that the Prince Series “retains the essential elements of the Goldsmith Photograph without significantly adding to or altering those elements.” In other words, it can’t be considered a transformative work. It’s worth noting that the judge’s decision will not affect the use of the Prince Series by art dealers; in galleries, museums, and in the Andy Warhol Museum. AP explains that Goldsmith didn’t challenge those rights.
Attorney Luke Nikas, who represents the Warhol Foundation, said that they will challenge the ruling. “Over fifty years of established art history and popular consensus confirms that Andy Warhol is one of the most transformative artists of the 20th Century,” he said in a statement. “While the Warhol Foundation strongly disagrees with the Second Circuit’s ruling, it does not change this fact, nor does it change the impact of Andy Warhol’s work on history.”
Still, the appeals court claims that it’s completely irrelevant that all artworks from the Price Series are “recognizable as a ‘Warhol.’” The judge’s conclusion is something I think as well about this whole case:
“Entertaining that logic would inevitably create a celebrity-plagiarist privilege; the more established the artist and the more distinct that artist’s style, the greater leeway that artist would have to pilfer the creative labors of others.”
[via Associated Press]