SCOTUS Takes On Case That Could Threaten Creativity Itself
High Court’s decision could affect copyright laws.
Case stems from a 4-decade-old photograph of Prince.
Deceased artist Andy Warhol accused of infringement.
Hundreds of artist associations sent briefs supporting Warhol’s work.
(NewsReady.com) – Not all art comes from pure, blind inspiration. Many creators use models, scenic backdrops, and even photographs as the base of their work, transforming them into unique creations. One of the most famous of such projects, Andy Warhol’s collection of Prince silkscreens, is the subject of a copyright case headed for the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) that could threaten the nature of creativity.
It Started With a Picture
In 1981, photographer Lynn Goldsmith captured rising star Prince in one of the most recognizable photos of the era. Newsweek commissioned the shoot, and Goldsmith ran with it. She took a picture of the young singer in concert, then invited him to her studio. There, she added some purple lip gloss and eye shadow and accentuated the lighting in the room to give his eyes a purple hue. The result was a picture that went beyond simple photography.
Newsweek didn’t use the image, so Goldsmith squirreled it away. A few years later, after Prince made it big, famous artist Andy Warhol took a commission to create a painted image of the songwriter, using Goldsmith’s image as the base. Warhol, being an eccentric and creative man, instead created an iconic set of 16 silkscreens with different colors and shading, turning a simple photograph into a collage of modern art. The artist copyrighted the collection as his own.
The problem for the Warhol Foundation, the entity in control of the artist’s work since his death, is the simple photograph he used wasn’t so simple; it was the work of another artist. A lawsuit and a series of divided court opinions now bring the case before the highest court in the land.
Serious Ramifications for Creators
A copyrighted piece can be used as the base for work if the work is transformative enough that it no longer represents the original artist. The Warhol Foundation will argue the silkscreen collection’s only resemblance to Goldsmith’s original work is the outline. The photographer’s team, in turn, will contest the assumption and assert the original piece is easily distinguishable in Warhol’s depiction and, therefore, subject to licensing fees and royalties.
The silkscreens have earned hundreds of millions over the years, and a win for Goldsmith would certainly come with a large award. For the art world, however, the case might resonate in a different way.
Will Things Change?
If the court rules with Goldsmith, some artists may need to re-think their approach. If Warhol was still alive, for example, one of his major inspirations could be in peril. The famous painter used photographs of a slew of public figures, including Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Queen Elizabeth II. All of those projects started as a photograph taken by someone else.
While a ruling for Goldsmith would help protect artists, it could also change how they create. Using already-existing images and videos, especially in the digital age, is key to projects involving CGI, documentaries, music, publishing, and more. The issue is such a concern that artist unions and organizations filed more than three dozen briefs with the court siding with the Warhol Foundation.
Copyright 2022, NewsReady.com