Washington – Supreme court Judges on Wednesday summoned artists as diverse as Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci and rap group 2 Live Crew as they searched whether they were silkscreen prints. Pop artist Andy Warhol made of rock star prince Copyright infringement of the photographer who took the original photo.
Some judges seemed skeptical that Warhol’s photographs constituted “fair use” under copyright law, in part because they did not have a different enough commercial purpose than the original photograph taken by famed photographer Lynne Goldsmith: both are used to illustrate magazine articles about Prince.
But other judges seem concerned that the Court of Appeals has underestimated, or even excluded, any analysis of whether Warhol’s work had a very different meaning or message than Goldsmith’s picture. As a result, one option may be to overturn this ruling and ask the lower court to try again.
Vibrant oral controversy, in which conservative judge Clarence Thomas revealed he was a fan of the Prince, is causing concern A legal issue of great importance For people in all kinds of creative industries, including television, film, and the fine arts. The court faced how to determine whether a new work based on an existing work was “transformative”—meaning it does not violate copyright law. By law, limited “fair use” of pre-existing artwork is legal in certain contexts, including when the new work conveys a different meaning or message.
Goldsmith sued Warhol’s use of her 1981 image of rising star Prince before he gained international fame for his hits such as “Little Red Corvette” and “When Doves Cry”. As part of an arrangement with Vanity Fair magazine three years later, Warhol created a series of silkscreen prints as well as two pencil drawings based on the Goldsmith portrait. While the original image, Portrait of the Prince, was in black and white, the silkscreen print is brightly colored over a cropped version of the original image. The style was similar to Warhol’s other famous works, such as his portraits of Marilyn Monroe.
Under license from Goldsmith, Vanity Fair used an illustration of Warhol based on the image in its November 1984 issue without any issues. But Goldsmiths said she was unaware that Warhol had made other unauthorized photos, a fact she only learned after Vanity Fair publisher Condé Nast used a different photo as part of the 2016 Prince tribute immediately after the rock star’s death.
Warhol himself died in 1987, and the Andy Warhol Foundation retains the related works and copyrights, which allowed Vanity Fair to use the photo in 2016. Goldsmith is not credited.
The following year, the case ended in court, with Goldsmith and the Foundation suing each other to determine whether Warhol’s photo constituted fair use.
In 2019, a federal judge ruled in favor of the foundation, saying that Warhol’s photographs were transformative because while Goldmith’s portrait showed a “weak human being,” Warhol’s prints depicted an “iconic figure larger than life.”
The foundation sought Supreme Court review after the New York-based second U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Goldsmith in March 2021. The appeals court blamed the district court for focusing on the artist’s intent, saying the judge “should not take on the role of art critic.” Instead, the court said, the judge must examine whether the new work is of a completely different nature from the original work. The court added that it must, at a minimum, include something more than simply imposing another artist’s style on the underlying work.
During Wednesday’s arguments, the judges questioned whether Warhols’ portrait of the Prince had a different purpose than Goldsmith because they are both used in the same way commercially to illustrate articles about the singer. Under copyright law, courts consider whether a new work will compete with the existing work and reduce its market value.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor questioned Warhol’s attorney, Roman Martinez, on the matter, questioning whether the fact that the images effectively had the same market was enough to “destroy your defense.”
Judge Neil Gorsuch made a similar point, noting that the Prince’s portraits were very different from Warhol’s famous photographs of Campbell’s soup cans because the difference in purpose in the latter case was evident.
“Campbell’s soup seems to be an easy case. Andy Warhol was not intended to sell tomato soup in a supermarket. It was to elicit a reaction from an onlooker in a museum or elsewhere.
“The difficulty of this case is that this particular photograph is used, perhaps, for the same purpose, to identify an individual in a magazine,” he added.
Not all justices seem to agree with this assessment, with Chief Justice John Roberts suggesting that Warhol’s and Goldsmith’s portraits could be considered fundamentally different.
“It’s a different style. It’s a different purpose. One is a commentary on modern society. The other is to show what Prince looks like.”
Judge Elena Kagan appears to have a similar view, pointing to the fact that Warhol’s work is in high demand by museums because he “was a transformative artist.”
Justice Samuel Alito questioned how much courts should refer to expert witnesses when deciding whether a work shows a different meaning. He noted that while the average person might see a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in which the person wears a different colored dress, an expert in Renaissance art might see this as transformative.
“You make it seem simple but maybe not that simple, at least in some cases, to define the meaning or message of a work of art,” Alito told Martinez.
The justices also discussed relevant Supreme Court precedent cited by both sides, a 1994 ruling in which the court ruled it was fair use when 2 Live Crew created a song called “Pretty Woman” which was a parody of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Women. . In another pop culture reference, Platt brought up the value of spin-offs in the entertainment industry, citing television shows that were based on the 1970s comedy “All in the Family,” which itself was based on a British sitcom.
Various interested parties have submitted briefs advising judges on the approach to take, including film and music industry groups, educational institutions and individual artists. (Universal Pictures, a division of NBC News’ parent company NBCUniversal, is a member of the Motion Picture Association, which has submitted a brief in the case in support of either party.)
The parties’ approach to the legal question depends in part on the extent to which their work depends on protecting their own copyrighted material rather than on the fair use of other people’s copyrighted content.
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