A Major Chord in the Song of Artistry: The Supreme Court’s Warhol Verdict


Interestingly, this verdict doesn’t necessarily shut the door on future fair use defenses. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, carefully stated that the ruling was only addressing the narrow issue of the purpose and character of the use in this particular case, and refrained from expressing any opinion on other works from the original Prince Series.

Implications for Future Artists

Despite its narrow focus, this ruling could echo loudly in the ears of artists who rely on transformative work, drawing from pre-existing pieces to create something new. It’s like remixing a Prince song – you start with something that already exists, tweak it, add your own flavor, and voila – a new piece of music is born. But if the courts don’t see your creation as sufficiently different from the original, you might have a problem.

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As Peter J. Karol, a professor at New England Law, Boston, put it, “If you take a source work, and you really transform it, adding your own voice and using it in a productive way as an artist… then that’s a sound basis for claiming this is transformative. This ruling may have shaken that belief to its core.”