Mar 30, 2022

Purple Rain, Purple Fame

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear a copyright dispute over paintings created by the iconic artist Andy Warhol in the 1980s by musician Prince.

A photographer, best known for her portraits of rock musicians, Lynn Goldsmith alleged Warhol’s images are based upon photographs of Prince which Goldsmith took in 1981. The question before the court is whether the images were transformed enough by Warhol to have distinct meaning and thus their own intellectual property, or alternatively if the artwork infringed on Goldsmith’s intellectual property rights.

The case will test the scope of the fair use defence in copyright infringement cases and further assess how to determine if a new work, which is based upon an old work, has been meaningfully transformed.

The images in question were licensed by Goldsmith to Vanity Fair, a high profile international brand. Warhol is said to have altered the images to create “a flat impersonal, disembodied, masklike appearance.”

Following Princes’ death in 2016, Vanity Fair published a special issue dedicated to Prince, whereby some of Warhol’s images were used, thus alerting Goldsmith to the existence of Warhol’s works. Litigation followed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, to which it was ruled copyright in the images vested with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Judge claimed:

“The humanity Prince embodies in Goldsmith’s photograph is gone. Moreover, each Prince series work is immediately recognisable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince – in the same way, that Warhol’s famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognisable as ‘Warhol’s’, not as realistic photographs of those persons.”

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit based in New York overturned the ruling and the appeal is now set to be heard by the US Supreme Court in the autumn.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniels Law on 0191 281 4000 or

in: Case Law, Copyright, EU/International, Legal News

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