The Warhol Foundation has filed a lawsuit against a photographer claiming that a 1984 piece by Andy Warhol infringes upon her copyright. The work of art in question is the Prince Series, which includes several different paintings of the musician Prince. The photographer claims that her 1981 publicity photo of Prince was used to make unauthorized derivative works.
The photographer, after the death of Prince last year, contacted the foundation to demand payment of damages for an alleged copyright infringement. However, the foundation believes that the claim is frivolous and nothing more than a shakedown. Rather than continue to waste time and money negotiating, the foundation has sought the help of the court in settling the dispute.
What Is Declaratory Relief?
The lawsuit filed by the foundation is seeking to stop the photographer from attempting to enforce her copyright infringement claims in court. Their complaint is one for declaratory relief, which is a type of legal action where a party to a dispute requests the court review a dispute and provide a declaratory judgment on an issue in dispute.
In essence, the foundation is asking the court to look at the claims being asserted against it by the photographer, and for the court to make a determination that claims are without merit.
Fair Use Over 30 Years Ago
While there is clearly some resemblance between Warhol's works and the photograph, there are several issues before the court that don't look good for the photographer's claim. First off, the copyright infringement claim being asserted is likely to be found to be outside the statute of limitations. After all, this happened over 30 years ago, and Warhol's Prince Series has been on display all over the world, republished in print, and even online. Under federal law, there is only a three-year statute of limitations within which to bring copyright infringement claims.
Additionally, the Warhol Foundation is asserting the Warhol's alleged use of the photo constitutes fair use. Under the law, artists can reproduce, or use, another's art, if the purpose is to provide criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or parody. The foundation's complaint details how Warhol's piece is type of social commentary on the commoditization of artists and art.