US Supreme Court ruled visual artist’s work infringed Lynn Goldsmith’s copyright

The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (May 18, 2023) that visual artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) violated copyright by using photographs of American singer Prince (1958-2016) taken by photographer Lynn Goldsmith , 75 years. There were 7 votes in favor of Goldsmith and 2 against. Here is the full text (2 MB, in English).

The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts –which has represented the visual artist since his death in 1987– will have to pay royalties to the photographer. The amount has not yet been disclosed.

The case was initiated in 2021 by Goldsmith and is related to work done by Warhol for the Vanity Fair.

In 1984, the visual artist was invited by the North American magazine to illustrate a report on Prince, entitled “Purple Fame”. Warhol made a series of 16 images and, in the work, used photographs taken by photographer Lynn Goldsmith in 1981.

Only one of the images was used in the report. At the time, the magazine credited Goldsmith and paid the photographer $400 to license the portrait as an artist reference. She also agreed to use the work in that edition only.

Playback/Supreme Court of the United States

Illustration created by Andy Warhol for the Vanity Fair “Purple Fame” em 1984

However, in 2016, the publisher of Vanity Fair, Condé Nast, produced a special edition in honor of Prince after the singer’s death. In publishing, the publisher used one of Wharhol’s images that had not been published in the 1984 story. US$10,250 was paid to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Playback/Supreme Court of the United States

Cover used by Condé Nast in a special edition published in 2016

Lynn Goldsmith, however, was neither credited nor paid. US Justice was then triggered. The case is pending in the District Court for Manhattan, New York. At the time, judge John G. Koeltl ruled that Warhol had created something new by bringing a different meaning to photography.

The judge relied on the concept of Fair Use (“fair use”, in free translation) of US copyright law. The standard allows the use of copyrighted productions without the owner’s permission under certain circumstances, such as for educational use, criticism, non-profit commercial use, among others.

The photographer appealed the decision and the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reversed the verdict. The case went to the US Supreme Court.

In her judgment on Thursday (May 18), judge Sonia Sotomayor focused on the commercial purpose of the works. She stated that the “fair use” did not apply to the question because the original and secondary work shared the same purposes and were used in a “commercial nature”.

Still according to Sotomayor, the purpose of Andy Warhol’s image is “substantially” the same as in Goldsmith’s photograph. “Both are portraits of Prince used in magazines to illustrate stories about Prince”these.

the president of Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual ArtsJoel Wachs, said in a statement that the court’s decision was “disappointing”. But he pondered that the sentence was “limited to this single license and does not call into question the legality of Andy Warhol’s creation of the Prince Series in 1984”. The information is from Wall Street Journal.

No FacebookLynn Goldsmith, stated that the decision will protect many working artists. “Justice Prevailed”he stated.


Andy Warhol was born in August 1928 and was the son of Slovak immigrants. He became an American artist and filmmaker and was one of those responsible for initiating the movement “Pop Artin the United States in the 1960s.

In 1949, he moved to New York where he started working at the magazine Glamour and became one of the biggest commercial artists of the time. Warhol used a unique style to create his designs, such as blurred lines and rubber stamps.

Warhol began to develop in painting in 1961, debuting the concept of “Pop art”. The movement criticized North American consumerism with paintings with extravagant and vibrant colors, characteristics present in the works made by him.

The artist painted portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor. One of his works called “8 Elvis” it was resold for US$100 million in 2008. The portrait “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”sold in 2022 for $195 million, is the artist’s most expensive work.

Another striking moment in the artist’s career was the quotation of the phrase “in the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes”written in a brochure of his exhibitions in Stockholm in 1968. The statement led to the creation of the phrase “15 minutes of fame”.

Warhol died in 1987, aged 58. He suffered cardiac arrest after undergoing gallbladder surgery.


Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 7, 1958, in Minnesota, in the United States, the son of a jazz singer and a musician. After starting in music at the age of 10, the singer signed his first contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978.

In 1984, with his band Revolution, the musician released the album Purple Rain. The work was the soundtrack for the film of the same name and even won an Oscar for Best Original Score, grossing around US$ 70 million at the box office.

In 1992, the singer closed another contract with Warner Bros. which, at the time, was considered the Biggest recording and publishing deal in history, worth US$ 100 million. The contract was superior to artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna.

In 1993, after conflicts with his label, Prince decided to change your stage name to an unpronounceable symbol (see in the image below). In theory, the symbol represented the astrological junction of the female and male genders.

Reproduction/Wikimidia Commons -22.Apr.2016

Symbol used by Prince as a stage name

At the time, the singer also began to perform with the word “slave” (slave, in free translation) written on his face because of the conflict with Warner Bros. Prince felt trapped by the label, which had refused to release the album. “The Gold Experience” and breaking the distribution contract with Paisley Park Records – the label in which he owned.

In 2000, the singer’s contract with the US label was terminated and he resumed the name Prince. The artist died of an overdose in April 2016 after taking fake Vicodin pills – used for extreme pain relief.


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