US court sides with photographer in fight for Warhol’s art

NEW YORK (AP) – A U.S. appeals court sided with a photographer Friday in a copyright dispute over how a foundation has commercialized a series of Andy Warhol artwork based on one of his photos. of Prince.

The New York-based United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the artwork created by Warhol prior to his death in 1987 was not transformative and could not exceed the copyright obligations of photographer Lynn Goldsmith. He sent the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

In a statement, Goldsmith said she was grateful for the outcome of the 4-year fight started by a lawsuit from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. He said the foundation wanted “to use my photograph without asking for my permission or paying me anything for my work.”

“I fought this lawsuit to protect not only my own rights, but the rights of all photographers and visual artists to earn a living by licensing their creative work, and also to decide when, how and even whether to exploit their works. creative or your license. others to do it, ”Goldsmith said.

Warhol created a series of 16 artworks based on a 1981 image of Prince that was taken by Goldsmith, a pioneering photographer known for portraits of famous musicians. The series contained 12 silk-screened paintings, two serigraphs on paper, and two drawings.

“Fundamentally, the Prince Series preserves the essential elements of the Goldsmith Photography without significantly adding or altering those elements,” said the Second Circuit in a decision written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch.

A concurring opinion written by Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs said the ruling would not affect the use of the 16 works from the Warhol Prince series acquired by various galleries, art dealers and the Andy Warhol Museum because Goldsmith did not challenge those rights.

The ruling overturned a 2019 ruling by a judge that concluded that Warhol’s depictions were so different from Goldsmith’s photograph that they transcended the copyrights held by Goldsmith, whose work has appeared on more than 100 album covers since the decade of the 1990s. 1960.

US District Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan had concluded that Warhol transformed the image of a vulnerable and uncomfortable prince into a work of art that turned the singer into an “iconic and larger than life figure.”

In 1984, Vanity Fair licensed one of Goldsmith’s black and white studio portraits of Prince from their December 1981 shoot for $ 400 and commissioned Warhol to create an illustration of Prince for an article titled “Purple. Fame “.

The dispute arose after Prince’s death in 2016, when the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts authorized the use of Warhol’s Prince series for use in a magazine commemorating Prince’s life. One of Warhol’s creations appeared on the cover of the May 2016 magazine.

Goldsmith claimed that the publication of Warhol’s artwork destroyed a high-profile licensing opportunity.

Attorney Luke Nikas said the Warhol Foundation will challenge the ruling.

“Over fifty years of established art history and popular consensus confirm that Andy Warhol is one of the most transformative artists of the 20th century,” Nikas said in a statement. “While the Warhol Foundation strongly disagrees with the Second Circuit ruling, it does not change this fact or change the impact of Andy Warhol’s work on history.”

Attorney Barry Werbin, who represented Goldsmith in lower court, called Friday’s ruling “a long-standing recovery from what had become an overly expansive application of” transformative “fair use of copyright.” .

“The decision helps to vindicate the rights of photographers who run the risk of famous artists misappropriating their works for commercial use under the guise of fair use,” he said.

The three-judge panel for the Second Circuit said its ruling should help clarify copyright law. He warned against judges making “inherently subjective” aesthetic judgments, saying they “should not assume the role of art critics and seek to determine the intention or meaning of the works in question.”

He repeatedly compared copyright issues to what happens when books are made into movies. The film, he noted, is often quite different from the book, but still retains copyright obligations.

The appeals court also said that the unique nature of Warhol’s art should not influence whether the artwork is transformative enough to be considered a “fair use” of a copyright, a legal term that would set an artist free. of paying license fees for the raw material you use. it was based on.

“We feel compelled to clarify that it is completely irrelevant to this analysis that” every work in the Prince series is immediately recognizable as a ‘Warhol,’ “the appeals court said. “Entertaining that logic would inevitably create a celebrity plagiarism privilege; the more established the artist and the more distinct the artist’s style, the more room for maneuver the artist will have to steal the creative labors of others. “


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