In 2017, Andy Warhol’s estate filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against famous photographer Lynn Goldsmith for the rights to Warhol’s Prince prints. Goldsmith filed a counterclaim for copyright infringement shortly after.
This past week, both parties have filed motions for summary judgment in what has become a heated debate. The latest arguments presented by Goldsmith question the artistic value Warhol adds to his source material by claiming that anyone could modify a photograph in similar ways with today’s technology.
Goldsmith asserts that Warhol was given permission to use her original photograph of Prince as source material for a single work. The resulting series contained 16 prints, all of which Goldsmith asserts are similar enough to her original photograph to be considered a violation of copyright. Warhol’s estate argues that the images were transformative to the extent that they cannot be considered the same image. They contend that the prints are new creations.
Appropriation in art has been an ongoing debate as is evidenced by cases such as Cariou v. Prince and Blanch v. Koons. The debate focuses on where the lines of fair use should be drawn for the artist versus the creator of the original source image. The pending decision in this case could shape the industry and the lives of artists that make heavy use of appropriation, as well as the lives of the photographers or other artists they base their works on.
Merve Ciplak is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).