Andy Warhol Violated a Photographer’s Copyright on Prince’s Photo, Supreme Court Rules

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a photographer who claimed the late Andy Warhol infringed his copyright on a photograph of the singer Prince.

“The original works of Lynn Goldsmith, like those of other photographers, are entitled to copyright protection even against well-known artists,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a Opinion Six of his colleagues joined in.

The case involved Warhol's drawings made by Prince as part of a 1984 commission for Vanity Fair. Warhol used one of Goldsmith's photographs as a starting point, a so-called artist reference, and Vanity Fair paid Goldsmith to license the photo. Warhol then created a series of images in his characteristic style.

Vanity Fair chose one of the images—the purple-faced Prince—to run in the magazine. Magazine ran another image from the series after Prince on its cover death of 2016, This was the second application the justices dealt with in the case.

Lawyers for Warhol's foundation argued that the artist had altered the photograph and that there had been infringement of copyright law. But a majority of the justices said the lower court had taken Goldsmith's right side.

Some amount of copying is acceptable as “fair use” under copyright law. To determine whether something counts as fair use, courts look to four factors set forth in the Federal Copyright Act of 1976. A lower court found that all four factors favored Goldsmith. Only the first factor was at issue in the Supreme Court case and Sotomayor wrote that: “The first factor favors Goldsmith.”