Photographer Loses Battle Against Andy Warhol Estate, Judge Says Warhol Surpassed Copyright

Photographer Loses Battle Against Andy Warhol Estate, Judge Says Warhol Surpassed Copyright

A photographer locked in a legal battle against the Andy Warhol estate has lost her legal battle. After only recently finding out Warhol had “repurposed” her photo of Prince back in 1984, the photographer tried to take action but was denied after Warhol’s works were deemed to be in “stark contrast” to the original photograph.

Photographer Lynn Goldsmith, who took the image of Prince in 1981 that Warhol reimagined for his artworks, filed the lawsuit. Vanity Fair ran Warhol’s artwork of Goldsmith’s work in a 1984 issue, but Goldsmith only learned of the incident in 2016 after a digital version of the article appeared online. Vanity Fair originally paid Warhol $400 (£318) for the commission.

However, judge John G. Koeltl ruled that Warhol surpassed Goldsmith’s copyright by transforming an image of a “vulnerable, uncomfortable person” into “an iconic, larger-than-life figure”.

The judge said:

Each Prince Series work is immediately recognisable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince – in the same way that Warhol’s famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognisable as ‘Warhols’, not as realistic photographs of those persons.

Warhol went on to create a series of 16 artworks, now known as the Prince Series, featuring 12 silkscreen paintings, two screen prints on paper, and two drawings.

After the ruling, photographer Goldsmith told artnert News:

I know that some people think I started this, and I’m trying to make money. That’s ridiculous – the Warhol Foundation sued me first for my own copyrighted photograph.

It’s true – back in April 2017, the Andy Warhol foundation preemptively sued the photographer, with a bid to “protect the works and legacy of Andy Warhol”. They made claims that Goldsmith was attempting to “shake down” the organization, leading them to take action. She hit back two days later with a countersuit.

Goldsmith says she is encouraging photographers to ““stand up along with me to say that your work cannot just be taken from you without your permission”.

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12 Comments

So this is considered derivative. Could I take someone else's photo of Warhol, solarize it, and sell screenprint shirts with his image?

Jeff Walsh's picture

It's nice to see the idea that the law doesn't apply to the rich put into action. Imagine someone more popular than you stole your work, and didn't want to pay for it, so they sue you for making the work that they in turn made money off of, and they win.

So I haven't been following this story, but I'm wondering after reading the statement "back in April 2017, the Andy Warhol foundation preemptively sued the photographer, with a bid to “protect the works and legacy of Andy Warhol”." that the foundation was trying to prevent her from exercising her copyright protections as regards her use of the original photo. Is this correct?? In other words, if she tried to market her image, she would be prevented from doing so?

The irony about all this is that Andy Warhol didn't even make his own artwork. He had his assistants do everything.

C Fisher's picture

Lol really? Not a fan but had no idea

EL PIC's picture

Welcome to the 21st Century !!

It’s where Digital Images are posted everywhere and easy as pie to take.
Old copyright laws are largely unenforceable due to massive image copying.
It’s if you post it .. you will loose it ..

Motti Bembaron's picture

More like welcome to the US of A copyright laws.

I see you did not read the article, The image was taken long before stealing digital images off the web was the norm heck even before the internet was mainstream

I like how they say its an original print of Warhols and that its not recognizable as the original photo. Yet when side by side its very obvious. I use to look up to his work as an artist till I discover basically nothing of his is his. How disappointing. If the foundation can display the print as an original and not a copy of the photo. Then she should be able to exhibit her photo how it has no association to the print as the foundation claimed.

Chris Lipscombe's picture

Does this mean that I can steal a car ... modify it ... now I did not steal the car?

Michael Vogt's picture

I don't think these comparisons of copyright to tangible property are especially helpful. The critical difference here is that if you steal someone's car, then the car's rightful owner can no longer use the car, but in this case of Warhol making a derivative work, the photographer still had her original photo and had the ability to make prints or derivative works with it.

I'm _not_ saying that means that we should get rid of copyright. I'm just saying that copyright is significantly different from property rights in tangible things.

I think this will go higher than a distinct judge or at least i hope it will, because clearly this judge in clueless