Warhol didn't violate Prince copyright

Warhol's artworks were in "stark contrast" to the original black-and-white photograph of Prince.
Warhol's artworks were in "stark contrast" to the original black-and-white photograph of Prince.

Andy Warhol transcended a photographer's copyright by transforming a vulnerable and uncomfortable Prince into an artwork that made the singer an "iconic, larger-than-life figure".

So says US District Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan who sided on Monday with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts over renowned photographer Lynn Goldsmith.

The case tested whether the legendary artist who died in 1987 made fair use of a 1981 picture of the famed late singer when he created a series of 16 artworks known as the Prince Series.

It contained 12 silkscreen paintings, two screen prints on paper and two drawings.

The judge noted that Goldsmith believed photographs she took of Prince in her New York City studio revealed that he was "not a comfortable person" and was a "vulnerable human being".

In 1984, Vanity Fair licensed one of Goldsmith's black-and-white studio portraits of Prince from her December 1981 shoot for $US400 ($A575) and commissioned Warhol to create an illustration of Prince for an article titled Purple Fame, Koeltl wrote.

He noted the article said it featured a special portrait for Vanity Fair by Andy Warhol and contained a copyright attribution for the portrait that cited a "source photograph" by Goldsmith.

Koeltl said Warhol's artworks were in "stark contrast" to the original black-and-white photograph after the artist applied "loud, unnatural" colors.

"The Prince Series works can reasonably be perceived to have transformed Prince from a vulnerable, uncomfortable person to an iconic, larger-than-life figure," the judge said.

"The humanity Prince embodies in Goldsmith's photograph is gone. Moreover, each Prince series work is immediately recognisable as a 'Warhol' rather than as a photograph of Prince - in the same way Warhol's famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognizable ... "

Koeltl said Warhol changed the picture so much that his artworks reflect the opposite mood of Goldsmith's photo.

Goldsmith, a pioneering photographer known for unique portraits of famous musicians, claims a 2016 publication of the Warhol artwork destroyed a high-profile licensing opportunity. Her lawyer promises to appeal.

Australian Associated Press