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The Andy Warhol Supreme Court case, explained

Why is Andy Warhol’s art part of a Supreme Court case?

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Pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York.

In this 1976 file photo, pop artist Andy Warhol smiles in New York. The Supreme Court has agreed to review a copyright dispute involving works of art by Warhol and a photographer who took an image of the musician Prince that the works are based on.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

The work of Andy Warhol, leading figure in the pop art movement, came under scrutiny in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could have implications for freedom of expression.

According to The New York Times, the art in question are Warhol’s images of the musician Prince. Warhol drew over the top of a photograph taken by Lynn Goldsmith to create 16 images of Prince. The Supreme Court case is exploring fair-use copyright as it relates to art. The New York Times reported, “A central question for the justices was how to assess whether a Warhol work based on her photograph had meaningfully transformed it.”

Goldsmith, photographer of the Prince photo, is suing the Andy Warhol Foundation — Warhol himself died in 1987 — for allegedly using her photograph without permission.

Encyclopedia Britannica explains that Warhol was a pioneer of the movement that took pop culture and “apotheosized” it. Warhol rose to fame for his iconic images of Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. He would later portray famous pop culture figures like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. Using a technique known as silk-screening, Warhol would draw on photographs to mass produce his iconic image style.

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“Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato)” (screenprint, 1978) by Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol Foundation

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The Marx Brothers, from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, is on display in the Andy Warhol Dream America exhibit until Jan. 6, 2008, at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.

Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News

From the photograph by Goldsmith, Warhol created 16 different images of Prince that have been discussed by the court justices.

The Washington Post explained that the lawyer representing Goldsmith believes that if Warhol, via the Andy Warhol Foundation, does not face consequences, that it will enable other artists to copy work. According to The Washington Post, Vanity Fair had commissioned Warhol for one of the Prince images and paid Goldsmith $400 to use her photograph as a reference. After this initial image creation, Warhol created 15 more images based on her photograph.

CNN reported that the justices discussed the boundaries of art creation and were struggling to articulate the boundaries of copyright and fair use. Their final decision is unknown yet, but this case could change the way that art is created in the U.S.