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Warhol Foundation sues photographer over 1984 Prince portraits

By | Published on Monday 10 April 2017


The estate of Andy Warhol has sued photographer Lynn Goldsmith in a dispute over a 1984 series of artworks featuring Prince. Warhol’s portraits of the musician were based on a publicity photo taken by Goldsmith, who now seemingly claims that the pop art icon infringed her copyright in the photograph when he created his artworks.

The Andy Warhol Foundation went legal last week, seeking judicial confirmation that the Prince pictures do not infringe Goldsmith’s copyright, a move presumably designed to stop her suing the estate. The Foundation’s lawsuit doesn’t deny that Warhol was inspired by Goldsmith’s photo of Prince when creating his portraits, but it says using her photograph in that way is protected by ‘fair use’ under US copyright law.

The lawsuit includes Goldsmith’s photo and one of Warhol’s pictures, and lists how the artist altered Prince’s image in his artwork. The legal filing says: “Although Warhol often used photographs taken by others as inspiration for his portraits, Warhol’s works were entirely new creations. As would be plain to any reasonable observer, each portrait in Warhol’s Prince series fundamentally transformed the visual aesthetic and meaning of the Prince publicity photograph”.

In addition to the fair use argument, the Warhol Foundation also says any claim against it by Goldsmith should be blocked under the statute of limitations, ie she waited far too long to go legal. It says that the photographer claims she wasn’t aware of Warhol’s adaptations of her photos until publisher Conde Nast used one on a publication called ‘The Genius Of Prince’, which was put out following the musician’s death last year. But the Foundation argues that Vanity Fair magazine got her permission to likewise publish one of the Warhol portraits shortly after they were first created in 1984.

Concluding, last week’s lawsuit said that “despite knowing that Warhol’s portraits are a protected fair use, defendants have attempted to extort a settlement from the Foundation”. For her part, Goldsmith told the New York Daily News that she was surprised by the legal action because she was under the impression a deal was nearly done with the Foundation. She added: “I believe that Warhol infringed my rights and I will oppose their action and counter claim for copyright infringement”.