It has been eight months since the Supreme Court’s landmark copyright fair use decision in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art, Inc. v. Goldsmith. Much has been written on the subject, including in this forum, but in many ways it was a narrow decision. The Court held that the commercial licensing of Orange Prince, a work in Andy Warhol’s Prince series based on a photograph by Lynn Goldsmith, was not protected under the first factor of the four-factor fair use test under 17 U.S.C. § 107. Its discussion of the transformative use test emphasized the similarity of the uses the works were put to (depicting Prince on magazine covers), rather than the characteristics of the works themselves. This, the Court said, prevents judges from acting as art critics to determine the aesthetic differences between, or meanings behind, artistic works.
Nicole Swanson is an associate in the Litigation Department.
Nicole earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she served as a Managing Editor of the Moot Court Board and was elected to the Order of Barristers. While at NYU, Nicole externed with the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Prior to law school, Nicole served as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona, working with self-represented litigants in family court.
Nicole maintains an active pro bono practice. She volunteers with LIFT (Legal Information for Families Today) to provide family law consults, and serves as a member of LIFT’s junior board. She also supports the New York State Courts’ Pandemic Practices Working Group in its efforts to evaluate court policies adopted in response to COVID-19.
On May 18th, the Supreme Court handed down its much‑anticipated opinion in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith. We’ve tracked the progress of this case through the trial court, Second Circuit, and Supreme Court.
The case concerns whether the Andy Warhol Foundation violated a copyright held by photographer Lynn Goldsmith when it licensed a Warhol work called Orange Prince, based on Goldsmith’s photo, to Condé Nast for use on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Goldsmith’s photo of Prince was the basis of a series of silkscreen portraits and drawings by Warhol known as the Prince Series. The work at issue was created without Goldsmith’s knowledge or consent. She received none of the $10,000 licensing fee paid to the Warhol Foundation for use of the image.
On March 28th, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith, a case involving the core issues around copyright fair use. The case involves a series of Warhol drawings and silkscreen prints adapted from an original photograph of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith. Likely to interplay with the recent fair use decision in Google v. Oracle, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case has the potential to reshape the contours of fair use and the fate of the transformative use test. The outcome of the decision will have a widespread impact on how artists, particularly appropriation artists and creators of “fan art,” draw from other works.