The US Supreme Court ruled against the Andy Warhol Foundation today. They ruled that Warhol had infringed upon the copyright of a photographer in creating a series of portraits of Prince based on that photograph.
This decision would seem to open the door to a copyright lawsuit on nearly all of Warhol’s most famous work, from Mao Zedog to Marilyn Monroe to his Campbell’s soup cans.
I think the Supreme Court needed a few lessons in art history since I’m not sure they understood that the entire theory behind pop art was the sardonic reinterpretation of ordinary popular culture objects. In other words, the work is a critical comment on popular culture rather than a theft of the original work.
I completely disagree with this decision.
I know this has more to do with fine art than graphic design, but it’s related.
I would give Warhol a fair use pass on the painting that hangs on a museum wall.
But when the same image gets slapped on merch… postcards, posters, playing cards, tote bags, puzzles, coffee mugs, shirts, caps, jewelry,…I don’t think the “art for the sake of art” card gets to be played. It’s commercial product at that point. Just like any other business in the US, they need to secure rights.