Andy Warhol in breach of copyright over Prince artwork, Supreme Court rules

The late Andy Warhol has been found in breach of copyright over a 1984 artwork of Prince, according to a Supreme Court ruling.

The visual artist, best known for his position as a leader of the pop art movement, died in 1987 aged 58.

Three years before his death, Warhol was commissioned to create a work to accompany an interview in Vanity Fair with the late musician Prince.

Warhol based his silk-screen prints on a photograph of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith, with Condé Nast paying the photographer $400 for one of the 16 images she took of Prince.

Warhol created multiple artworks transposing the image into different colour palettes and prints, as was his style.

When Prince died in 2016, a different artwork to the one originally published was used on the cover of Vanity Fair’s tribute issue. According to Goldsmith, who is also a musician herself, this was the first time she had learnt about the allegedly unauthorised artwork.

On Thursday (18 May), a Supreme Court verdict was reached, ruling 7-2 that Warhol had violated copyright of the image and that the work did not count as “fair use”.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that “Goldsmith’s original works, like those of other photographers, are entitled to copyright protection, even against famous artists”.

Andy Warhol (Getty Images)
Andy Warhol (Getty Images)

However, Justice Elena Kagan disagreed, saying that the ruling would “stifle creativity of every sort”.

In a statement, The Andy Warhol Foundation said it disagreed with the court’s decision.

However, the foundation’s president Joel Wachs said that they welcomed the “clarification that its decision is limited to that single licensing and does not question the legality of Andy Warhol’s creation of the Prince Series in 1984”.

“Going forward, we will continue standing up for the rights of artists to create transformative works under the Copyright Act and the First Amendment,” he added.