Andy Warhol Supreme Court case outs Justice as a Prince fan

Case could reshape fair-use defence to copyright infringement for follow-on works, affecting music, videos, books, and Warhol’s pop art

The original Lynn Goldsmith photograph of Prince and Andy Warhol's artwork of the musician. Photo: Lynn Goldsmith / Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
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A copyright clash over Andy Warhol’s celebrity images drew the US Supreme Court into a spirited and at times laugh-inducing debate involving Norman Lear, 2 Live Crew and Justice Clarence Thomas’s years as a Prince fan.

Hearing arguments in Washington, the justices dealt with photographer Lynn Goldsmith's claim that Warhol breached her copyright by basing his 1984 images on her 1981 portrait of Prince.

The case could reshape the fair-use defence to copyright infringement for follow-on works, affecting music, videos and books, as well as Warhol’s pop art.

The 102-minute argument did not clearly indicate which way the court would rule as the justices sought to balance the rights of copyright owners with the needs of artists who create follow-on works.

But it offered several moments of comic relief in what is likely to be a divisive Supreme Court term.

Part of the more than 140-page petition submitted to the US Supreme Court by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in their case against Goldsmith. Reuters

Mr Thomas was at the centre of much of the frivolity. He mentioned in passing that he was a Prince fan in the 1980s, prompting Justice Elena Kagan to ask him wryly: “No longer?”

As the courtroom broke into laughter, Mr Thomas smiled and responded: “Only on Thursday nights."

He then crafted a hypothetical question that had him doubling as a fan of the Syracuse University basketball team, whose nickname is the Orange.

Mr Thomas asked Roman Martinez, the lawyer representing the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, whether the justice would be sued for making a huge poster of Warhol’s orange-coloured Prince image, with the words “Go Orange” added at the bottom, to wave at Syracuse games.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 12:41 AM
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