The Andy Warhol Legal Diaries

Andy Warhol
Photo by David Lefranc/Kipa/Sygma via Getty
Eriq Gardner
March 21, 2022

These days, everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame, but not everyone scores a date with the U.S. Supreme Court. Will Andy Warhol? On Monday, the justices declined to take up several dozen cases discussed at a conference late last week, but teased the art world by deferring a decision on Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Lynn Goldsmith. That would be the very hot legal dispute over whether Warhol is a copyright infringer. (Update 3/28: The Supreme Court will review this case.)

Warhol is a law nerd’s dream—even in death. A few years ago, his estate battled the Velvet Underground for the right to license the famous banana album cover. Around the same time, Warhol’s heirs defended an antitrust case for allegedly cornering the market on authentication of his works. And last year, while the world was watching Mathew Rosengart free Britney Spears, I was fascinated by the attorney’s other legal battle—a case over whether “re-screening” (similar to retouching) Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series rendered them fakes. When it comes to Warhol, there’s a lot to stare at in puzzled amazement. But it’s the Andy Warhol Foundation’s court fight with Lynn Goldsmith that is setting new legal ground.

Goldsmith is a photographer who licensed her images of the musician Prince to Vanity Fair in the 1980s. After Prince died, Goldsmith learned that Warhol had created a series of silkscreens using her photograph without permission. When Goldsmith complained, the Andy Warhol Foundation went to court to get a declaration of copyright fair use. At the District Court level, the Andy Warhol Foundation initially succeeded, but then last March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave Goldmith the win.