Andy Warhol Copyright Infringement Case Will Go to the Supreme Court

Andy Warhol Copyright Infringement Case Will Go to the Supreme Court

A copyright infringement case involving Andy Warhol is headed to the Supreme Court.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Lynn Goldsmith's lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation as related to the late pop artist's use of her 1981 photograph of musician Prince, which was originally taken for Newsweek.

According to the New York Times, the case revolves around the issues of fair use and will determine whether Warhol meaningfully transformed Goldsmith's unpublished photo by drawing over it to create a series of 16 multicolored paintings for a 1984 Vanity Fair cover.

While the publication initially licensed the image from Goldsmith, she later found out that Warhol created 15 other works based on the photo after Vanity Fair republished one of them in 2016 for a tribute issue tied to Prince's death. As such, she accused the artist — who died in 1987 — of copyright infringement, though a federal judge ruled in favor of the Warhol Foundation in 2019, saying the painting transformed "a vulnerable, uncomfortable" Prince into "an iconic, larger-than-life figure.”

However, a federal appeals court later reversed the decision in 2021, saying that Warhol's series “retains the essential elements of the Goldsmith photograph without significantly adding to or altering those elements." At the time, the court also said that it didn't matter whether the images were instantly recognizable as Warhols, arguing that "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."

As a result, the Warhol Foundation asked the Supreme Court to review the decision under the basis that Warhol's work "comments on the role of celebrity image in popular culture" and that a ruling in Goldsmith's favor would affect visual art as a whole.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to grant review in this case,” Roman Martinez, who is part of a firm representing the Warhol Foundation, said in a statement. “The ‘fair use’ doctrine plays an essential role in protecting free artistic expression and advancing core First Amendment values.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case when its new term starts in October.

Photo via Getty / Brownie Harris / Corbis