Case Briefs

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith

Case(s): Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 21-869 (U.S.)

In 2016, petitioner Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (“AWF”) licensed to Condé Nast for $10,000 an image of “Orange Prince” – an orange silkscreen portrait of the musician Prince created by pop artist Andy Warhol – to appear on the cover of a magazine commemorating Prince. Orange Prince is one of 16 works now known as the Prince Series that Warhol derived from a copyrighted photograph taken in 1981 by respondent Lynn Goldsmith, a professional photographer.

Years later, Goldsmith granted a limited license to Vanity Fair for use of one of her Prince photos as an “artist reference for an illustration.” The terms of the license included that the use would be for “one time” only. Vanity Fair hired Warhol to create the illustration, and Warhol used Goldsmith’s photo to create a purple silkscreen portrait of Prince, which appeared with an article about Prince in Vanity Fair’s November 1984 issue. The magazine credited Goldsmith for the “source photograph” and paid her $400. After Prince died in 2016, Vanity Fair’s parent company (Condé Nast) asked AWF about reusing the 1984 Vanity Fair image for a special edition magazine that would commemorate Prince. When Condé Nast learned about the other Prince Series images, it opted instead to purchase a license from AWF to publish Orange Prince. 

Goldsmith notified AWF of her belief that it had infringed her copyright. AWF then sued Goldsmith for a declaratory judgment of noninfringement or, in the alternative, fair use. Goldsmith counterclaimed for infringement.

District Court and Second Circuit Decisions

U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York considered the four fair use factors in 17 U. S. C. §107 and granted AWF summary judgment on its defense of fair use. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, finding that all four fair use factors favored Goldsmith. AWF  filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in December 2021, which was granted  by the court on March 28, 2022.

Issue Before the Supreme Court: Whether the first fair use factor, “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes,” §107(1), weighs in favor of AWF’s recent commercial licensing to Condé Nast.

Supreme Court’s Decision

The “purpose and character” of AWF’s use of Goldsmith’s photograph in commercially licensing Orange Prince to Condé Nast does not favor AWF’s fair use defense to copyright infringement. Writing for the majority, Justice Sotomayor held, “AWF contends that the Prince Series works are ‘transformative,’ and that the first fair use factor thus weighs in AWF’s favor, because the works convey a different meaning or message than the photograph. But the first fair use factor instead focuses on whether an allegedly infringing use has a further purpose or different character, which is a matter of degree, and the degree of difference must be weighed against other considerations, like commercialism. Although new expression, meaning, or message may be relevant to whether a copying use has a sufficiently distinct purpose or character, it is not, without more, dispositive of the first factor. Here, the specific use of Goldsmith’s photograph alleged to infringe her copyright is AWF’s licensing of Orange Prince to Condé Nast. As portraits of Prince used to depict Prince in magazine stories about Prince, the original photograph and AWF’s copying use of it share substantially the same purpose. Moreover, AWF’s use is of a commercial nature. Even though Orange Prince adds new expression to Goldsmith’s photograph, in the context of the challenged use, the first fair use factor still favors Goldsmith.”