The first centers around a fair use debate, similar in nature to a case covered in a previous post about Shepard Fairey’s Obama HOPE poster and his use of a photo as inspiration: The estate of Andy Warhol has filed suit against New York City photographer Lynn Goldsmith as a preemptive strike to protect Warhol’s legacy. According to the NY Daily News, Goldsmith had been expected to file a copyright infringement lawsuit against the estate. Goldsmith alleges that Warhol used a photo she took of Prince in 1981 as inspiration for his Prince Series (created in 1984) without asking permission or crediting her.
The estate argues that Warhol’s appropriation of the photo was transformative enough to be considered new work (therefore, meeting the terms of fair use under U.S. copyright law) and allege Goldsmith’s objective is extortion. Estate lawyer Luke Nikas stated in court documents that, “Although Warhol often used photographs taken by others as inspiration for his portraits, Warhol’s works were entirely new creations. As would be plain to any reasonable observer, each portrait in Warhol’s Prince Series fundamentally transformed the visual aesthetic and meaning of the Prince Publicity Photograph.” When asked why she did not pursue legal measures at any point over the past 30 years, Goldsmith said that she was only made aware of the pieces in 2016, when Condé Nast published a special issue called The Genius of Prince. The estate counters that she knew of the pieces as far back as 1984, when she granted permission to Vanity Fair to publish one of them.
Prince’s image isn’t the only thing sparking debate – his catalog of work is, as well. While his Warner Bros. music catalog was released earlier this year to digital streaming platforms, his videography remains largely inaccessible to the public due to copyright disputes. Will his full videography eventually be made available? And further, will the public ever gain access to the material in his Paisley Park estate’s storied vault? It’s been speculated that nearly all contents of the vault lack thorough rights contracts.
Prince’s estate has been in flux for some time, as it’s battled to resolve contractual disputes over copyright issues with Warner and Universal. Since his passing in April 2016, various issues involving copyright have arisen. The public’s collective hope is for speedy resolution to copyright matters so all may freely access his work. (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)