In the words of Prince, why should they wait any longer? Per the New York Times, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a copyright case about Andy Warhol’s Prince artwork. The justices will decide if Warhol meaningfully altered a black-and-white photo of Prince enough to create new work that would be protected by the fair use doctrine. It’s a better topic to ask a judge about than if babies are racist, that’s for sure. Warhol, known for his silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, created a series of Prince images by cropping and adding color, among other changes, to a black-and-white photo taken by Lynn Goldsmith in 1981. He drew on the same photograph multiple times, ultimately creating 16 images. Lawyers have argued that these are “entirely new creations” that offer commentary on celebrity and consumerism.
Goldsmith learned of Warhol’s artwork after Prince’s death in 2016. According to UPI, she threatened to sue, but the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts sued her first, asking a court to declare that the photographer’s copyright had not been infringed upon. In 2019, a New York federal court sided with Warhol’s foundation, stating that the artist had transformed the singer in the photograph “from a vulnerable, uncomfortable person to an iconic, larger-than-life figure” in the artwork. But the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and said the lower court had assumed “the role of art critic” and made a subjective judgment. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide how to determine what counts as transforming a work of art into something new. We wonder if Warhol’s deep fake will weigh in.