US Supreme Court rules against Warhol Foundation in major art case

A 1993 photograph of the musician Prince by Lynn Goldsmith, at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, April 22, 2016.

The dispute had been in court for seven years and raised serious questions about borrowing in art and its possible copyright implications. By a majority of seven judges out of nine, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, Thursday, May 18, that the photographer Lynn Goldsmith should have collected royalties when the portrait of the musician Prince, produced by Andy Warhol in pressing one of his images, was reproduced on the cover of a magazine.

The Warhol Foundation, which manages the posterity of the artist, had pleaded that Andy Warhol’s interventions on the photo of Lynn Goldsmith were sufficiently “substantial” to not pay any fees to the photographer. The Supreme Court ruled against him. “Lynn Goldsmith’s original works, like those of all photographers, enjoy copyright protection, even from famous artists,” judge Sonia Sotomayor estimated.

“These protections cover derivative works that transform the original works”, except when the former is sufficiently different from the latter, she adds. Now, in the portrait of Prince in question, “Goldsmith and the Warhol Foundation made the same commercial use of his image”she decides, in a decision feared by the art world.

Because several leading cultural players, including nine of the country’s main museums, had argued with the Supreme Court that borrowing has been a creative springboard for centuries and that a decision favorable to the photographer could call into question artistic authorship. many works.

An intense legal battle

The file at the heart of this stop has its source in 1981. Lynn Goldsmith, a photographer renowned for having immortalized many rock stars, offers the weekly Newsweek to paint the portrait of a musician who is beginning to break through: Prince. She takes several black and white shots of the young man with fine features.

In 1984, the album Purple Rain propelled him to stardom. The magazine Vanity Fair wants to devote an article to him and asks Andy Warhol to paint his portrait in the style of his famous colored engravings of Marilyn Monroe or Mao.

For 400 dollars, Lynn Goldsmith authorizes the magazine to use one of her photos for the exclusive use of this article. Titled “Purple Fame”, the text is accompanied by Prince’s face, purple skin and jet-black hair, on a bright orange background.

The story would have ended there if Andy Warhol had not declined this photo in all tones to create a series of sixteen portraits of the musician, whom he admired for his talent and his androgynous style. Lynn Goldsmith discovered their existence in 2016 when Prince died, when Vanity Fair published a front-page image of the Minneapolis Kid taken from his photo, but all orange this time. She then contacted the Andy Warhol Foundation, which has managed the artist’s collection since his death in 1987, to claim rights. She refused, opening the door to an intense legal battle which has just come to an end.

The World with AFP

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