In a case spanning nearly 40 years of art and touching the estates of two of the world’s most well-known artists, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit clarified its position on the application of the fair use doctrine and its protection of transformative works. In doing so, the Second Circuit reversed the district court’s finding of fair use and held that a series of prints and illustrations of the musical artist Prince created by the visual artist Andy Warhol were substantially similar to a 1981 portrait photograph of Prince taken by the photographer Lynn Goldsmith. The Court remanded for further proceedings. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Lynn Goldsmith, et al., Case No. 19-2420-cv (2d Cir. Mar. 26, 2021) (Lynch, J.) (Sullivan, J., joined by Jacobs, J., concurring) (Jacobs, J., concurring).
In 1984, Goldsmith’s agency licensed her 1981 photograph of Prince to Vanity Fair for use as an artist reference for creating a rendering of Prince to accompany Vanity Fair‘s profile of the artist. What Goldsmith did not learn until more than 30 years later, shortly after Prince’s untimely death, was that the artist commissioned by Vanity Fair to create the Prince drawing was Andy Warhol, and that Warhol had also used the photograph to create an additional 15 silkscreen prints and illustrations, known as the Prince Series. In 2017, Goldsmith notified The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (AWF), as the successor to Warhol’s copyright in the Prince Series, of her claims of copyright infringement. AWF responded with a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Prince Series works were non-infringing or, in the alternative, qualified as fair use of Goldsmith’s photograph. Goldsmith countersued for infringement. Relying on the Second Circuit’s 2013 holding in the copyright case Cariou v. Prince, the district court granted summary judgment to AWF, agreeing with its assertion of fair use and considering the Warhol work to be “transformative” of the original. Goldsmith appealed.
The appeal required the Second Circuit to consider, de novo, the four fair use factors under § 107 of the Copyright Act: (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The Court focused its analysis on the first fair use factor, and specifically the extent to which the Prince Series works were transformative of the original. The transformative nature of a work is determined by whether the new work merely supersedes the “objects of the original creation,” or whether it “instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” The Court noted that the assessment of a transformative work is less clear where the [...]