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Legendary Copyright Clash: Andy Warhol, Prince, and the Artistic Verdict

It’s not at all unusual for the personalities who have inspired our accommodations at BRIX to appear in the news, or even for more than one of them to be in the news on the same day. However, a recent and highly significant decision by the United States Supreme Court concerning copyright law resulted in both Andy Warhol and Prince becoming part of a single story. This story required the Justices of the Supreme Court to wrestle with age-old questions such as “Yes, But Is it Art?”. While Andy might have argued that all art is plagiarism, the Supreme Court ruled against the Andy Warhol Foundation (AWF). They declared that Andy, in transforming a 1981 black and white photo of Prince by photographer Lynn Goldsmith into his trademark style by flattening tones and adding primary colors, had not, as the AWF argued, created an entirely original work. Instead, they found that Andy had infringed on Goldsmith’s copyright.

Justice Elena Kagan dissented from the 7-2 opinion, and she was joined only by Chief Justice John Roberts. Whether you side with Kagan or with Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who wrote the majority opinion, I’m sure you’ll agree that the whole process, which required the Justices to engage in a lengthy, in-depth analysis of issues such as the significance of the contribution of Campbell’s soup to Western culture, was purely Warholian from start to finish. As for the Supreme Court, as Warhol might have put it if he were still with us, “That’s just your opinion, man.”

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