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High Court rules against artist Andy Warhol in dispute on Prince image

It was a long-time copyright dispute over an image used by Andy Warhol of musician Prince. Justices ruled Warhol infringed.
In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York.
Posted at 7:08 PM, May 18, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that artist Andy Warhol infringed on the copyright of a photographer when he created art using an image of the late musician Prince for a series of silk screens. 

Justices ruled 7-2 againstWarhol's usage of the imagery. 

Justice Elena Kagan said in a dissent that the opinion would "stifle creativity of every sort."

Warhol, who died in 1987, had his side represented by an attorney for his foundation. A key point in the argument on Warhol's side was that the image of Prince was altered or transformed so much that it should not infringe on any copyright. 

The majority opinion was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that photographers "are entitled to copyright protection, even against famous artists."


The "fair use" doctrine, which played a large role in arguments, is a segment of copyright law that calls for the allowance of use of copyright-protected works without a license, with exceptions. 

Justices examined how artists have to protect their work, but also need to be able to monetize it. There is also the need to encourage new ways of artistic expression. 

Justice Kagan said silk screens and photographs do not have the same "aesthetic characteristics," nor do they "convey the same meaning," she said in her dissent. 

"Both Congress and the courts have long recognized that an overly stringent copyright regime actually stifles creativity by preventing artists from building on the works of others," Kagan said. 

A member of the media walks through the debris of the Reina nightclub that was attacked on New Year's Day, 2017.

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