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  • Writer's pictureBruce Nahin


The SCOTUS decision in the case of Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith delivers crucial clarifications regarding the application of “fair use” in the domain of visual arts and copyright law. This dispute hinged on a photograph captured by Lynn Goldsmith, which renowned pop artist Andy Warhol used as a direct source to create a series of silkscreen images depicting the musician Prince.

SCOTUS affirmed the Second Circuit’s ruling that the Warhol Foundation’s use of Goldsmith’s photograph did not fall under the umbrella of “fair use.” The Court found that despite the new expression Warhol’s work added to Goldsmith’s photograph, the commercial nature of the Warhol Foundation’s use and its substantial similarity in purpose to the original photograph favored Goldsmith in the balance of the first fair use factor. This decision underscores the significance of the commercialization of derivative works in copyright infringement disputes. It highlights that even transformative works, if used commercially in a similar context to the original, might not be safeguarded by the fair use doctrine.

Furthermore, the SCOTUS decision was influenced by the existence of a licensing agreement between Goldsmith and Vanity Fair, which permitted a one-time use of her photograph as an “artist reference for an illustration.” The limited scope of this agreement did not extend to the additional works created by Warhol or their subsequent commercial use, revealing the potential impact of pre-existing licensing agreements on copyright infringement and fair use analyses.

This case emphasizes the importance of understanding the terms of licensing agreements and their legal implications in the context of copyright law, particularly when derivative works are involved.

For further information contract your local IP attorney or call me 661 236 9721

Taken from the brilliant article written By Kennington Goff. Brilliant lawyer in Atlanta

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