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Florida Intellectual Property Attorney > Blog > Brand Protection > U.S. Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Photographer In Copyright Case Against Andy Warhol’s Estate

U.S. Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Photographer In Copyright Case Against Andy Warhol’s Estate


According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), a United States appeals court has ruled in favor of a photographer in a copyright dispute with the estate of artist Andy Warhol. In the case of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v Lynn Goldsmith, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the estate’s unlicensed, uncompensated use of a photograph did not constitute fair use. Here, our Florida brand protection attorney provides a more comprehensive overview of the decision.

Background & Facts 

In 1981, photographer Lynn Goldsmith took a picture of the musical icon ‘Prince’. She obtained a copyright over the photograph and licensed it to Vanity Fair in 1984 to be used in a series of sketch illustrations. The artist working with Vanity Fair was Andy Warhol. Beyond using the image licensed as part of his work with the magazine, Andy Warhol then used the photographs to create fifteen additional works. Collectively, the sketches were known as the ‘Prince Series’.

It was not until 2016—shortly after the passing of Prince—that Ms. Goldsmith became aware of Andy Warhol’s unlicensed series of sketches. She informed his estate of her belief that the collection violated her copyright. Soon after, the Andy Warhol Foundation responded by filing a lawsuit against Ms. Goldsmith seeking a declaratory judgement on the grounds of fair use. 

The Warhol Estate Relied on the Fair Use Doctrine 

The argument made by the Warhol estate was relatively straightforward: The collection of drawings are transformative and, therefore, fall under the fair use exception to copyright law. Under the fair use doctrine, parties can borrow from copyright protected work without permission if they do so in a sufficiently transformative manner. At the trial stage, a federal judge in New York agreed with the claim made by the Andy Warhol Foundation—finding that the drawings were sufficiently transformative. 

Appeals Court Reverses, Finds No ‘Fair Use’ 

On appeal, the Second Circuit has reversed. The appeals court notes that the Warhol drawings fall short of the transformative requirement of the fair use doctrine. The court states that transformation must be “something more than the imposition of another artist’s style on the primary work” and must actually alter the original work by adding a new expression, meaning, or message. This is an important decision as it helps to clarify the court’s view on the limits of the fair use doctrine.   The Andy Warhol Foundation’s petition for writ of certiorari has recently been granted and the case will soon be reviewed by the US Supreme Court. 

Get Help From Our Boca Raton, FL Copyright Lawyers

At Perkins Law, our Florida intellectual property attorneys have extensive experience handling copyright law matters. If you have any questions about copyright infringement and fair use, we are available to help. Contact us today for a completely confidential review and assessment of your case. We provide copyright law services throughout South Florida, including in Boca Raton, Deerfield Beach, Coral Springs, Delray Beach, Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.




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