Rock photographer Lynn Goldsmith prevails against Warhol Estate in copyright flap

Two pop-culture giants battled over the copyright of a 1981 portrait of Prince… and the photographer won. A New York-based federal appeals court ruled last week pop artist Andy Warhol‘s 1984 paintings of Prince based on photographs by Lynn Goldsmith didn’t go far enough to transform the original portrait.

The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Goldsmith in her much-publicized lawsuit, which argued Warhol’s series of 16 artworks based on her Prince portrait violated her copyright. The decision overturned a U.S. District Court decision in the case.

Judge Gerard Lynch ruled Warhol’s work didn’t deviate enough from Goldsmith’s original portrait to be considered a derivative work: “Crucially, the Prince series retains the essential elements of the Goldsmith photograph without significantly adding to or altering those elements.”

Goldsmith, one of the best-known rock-and-roll photographers, took the photograph of Prince and licensed it to Vanity Fair to be used as an artist reference. According to the court ruling, the magazine commissioned Warhol to create an image based on the photograph without Goldsmith’s knowledge. Further, Warhol created additional work based on the portrait, beyond the scope of the original commission. Goldsmith said she first became aware of the additional artworks after Prince’s 2015 death and notified the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts of the alleged copyright infringement. The foundation sued for a declaratory judgment the artworks didn’t violate copyright, and Goldsmith countersued. She also organized a GoFundMe to cover the court costs.

“Warhol did not stop with the image Vanity Fair had commissioned him to create but created an additional 15 works, which together became known as the Prince series,” the court documents said.