The US Supreme Court on Wednesday began hearing arguments in a copyright dispute between a photographer and Andy Warhol’s estate over the famed artist’s paintings of rock star Prince in a case that could help set boundaries for artistic works that draw upon other material.
The justices were considering the Andy Warhol Foundation’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that his 1984 paintings – based on a 1981 photo of Prince that celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith shot for Newsweek magazine in 1981 – were not protected by a copyright law doctrine called fair use.
This doctrine permits unlicensed use of copyright-protected works under certain circumstances.
The dispute over where to draw the line between inspiration and misuse has drawn broad interest for its implications for artists and the entertainment industry more broadly.
Warhol, who died in 1987, was a central figure in the pop art movement that arose in the 1950s.
He often created silkscreen print paintings and other works inspired by photos of famous subjects and commercial products – work that has considerable artistic and monetary values.
For instance, Warhol’s 1964 silkscreen portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe was purchased for $195 million in May, setting a record for a work by an American artist sold at auction.
Warhol made 14 silkscreen prints and two pencil illustrations inspired by Goldsmith’s photograph.
Goldsmith, 74, has said she learned of Warhol’s unlicensed works only after Prince’s 2016 death.
She countersued Warhol’s estate for copyright infringement in 2017 after it asked a Manhattan federal court to rule that his works did not violate her rights.