Comment on Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 8806 (2d Cir. March 26, 2021)
U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals tames “transformative” fair use; rejects “celebrity-plagiarist privilege”; clarifies protectable expression in photographs
In Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 8806 (March 26, 2021), the Second Circuit reversed the SDNY’s grant of summary judgment that Andy Warhol’s silk screen adaptation of a photographic portrait of entertainer Prince was a fair use. The Second Circuit’s decision retreats both from its prior caselaw’s generous characterization of artistic reuse as “transformative,” and from the outcome-determinacy of a finding of “transformativeness.” The court also provided an important explanation of copyrightable authorship in photographs.
|Lynn Goldsmith's photograph (L);|
Andy Warhol's Prince (R)
Like other recent decisions, this judgment may signal a taming of “transformative use.” Prior caselaw, particularly in the district courts, seemed to accept almost any alleged new meaning or purpose, or added expression, as “transformative,” and then, having racked the first fair use factor into the defendant’s column, lined up the other three to conform to the first. Appellate courts now may be curbing this enthusiasm, both by adopting a more critical assessment of alleged transformations, and by reviving the independent importance of the fourth factor, market harm. In emphasizing the impact of the defendant’s use on the plaintiff’s ability to license derivative works, the Second Circuit may have begun to redress Cariou’s derogatory treatment of the art world proletariat. The court recognized that depriving photographers of licensing markets, including markets for using their works as “raw material” for other artists to stylize, disserves the overall goal of copyright to promote creativity by enabling artists to make a living.
Furthermore, the court’s exposition of protectable expression in photographs should reassure photographers, particularly photojournalists, whose art consists largely of knowing how and when to seize the moment. Against the contention that such images merely convey a reality the photographer did not create, the court’s emphasis on “the image produced in the interval between the shutter opening and closing,” (at *37) recognizes that “the readiness is all.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet V.2).
[This is an Authors' Take post, which provides readers with an insight into current IP scholarship, featuring preliminary comments and thoughts from authors of articles accepted for publication in forthcoming issues of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (OUP). The full text of this contribution will be made available on Advance Access soon]