In a case involving Andy Warhol’s works known as the “Prince Series,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reined in the fair-use defense for visual art that is based on copyrighted photos. The works consist of fourteen silkscreen prints and two pencil illustrations based on an unpublished photo of musical artist Prince taken by professional photographer Lynn Goldsmith. In its ruling, the Court clarified that a secondary work must convey a “‘new meaning or message’ entirely separate from its source material” when it does not “comment on or relate back to” the copyrighted material. Using that clarification in its fair-use analysis, the panel found that Warhol’s Prince Series was not fair use. The panel also found that the Prince Series works are substantially similar to Goldsmith’s original photograph.
In 1981, Goldsmith took twenty-three photos of Prince, held a copyright in each of those photos, and licensed one to Vanity Fair as an “artist reference.” Vanity Fair then commissioned Andy Warhol to use that unpublished photo to create an illustration for an article about Prince. But Warhol didn’t stop there. Without Goldsmith’s permission, Warhol used the photo to make fifteen more works, creating the Prince Series.