Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Q: Why Wasn't Warhol Sued? A: He Was

Dear Rich: Copyright is one of my favorite subjects as I work with students who will soon be school teachers. Here is a question my students have been exploring. Considering all the problems that Shepard Fairey has because of his derivative poster based on a photo of Barack Obama made me wonder, did Andy Warhol's paintings and prints of Campbell's soup cans, Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe get him into trouble with the owners of those original works? The short answer to your question is that Warhol's art has triggered some lawsuits. 
Patricia Caulfield, the photographer whose work was used as the basis of Warhol's flower prints (above) sued in November 1966 and settled for cash and artwork. Warhol's 1964 work, 16 Jackies, was the subject of a lawsuit brought against the Warhol Foundation in 1996 by the photographer of the original Jackie photos. That led the Foundation to sue Warhol's insurer. Warhol was never sued over his Marilyns, which were based on a publicity still of Monroe. We're not sure how Warhol managed the rights for his Mickey Mouse but apparently he didn't run into the same kind of litigation in which 60's cartoonist Dan O'Neill became embroiled. Perhaps because Dan was naughty (parental advisory), and Andy was nice? Campbell's Soup Company didn't litigate; they exploited the efforts of their most famous chicken-noodle fan. The company even offers an Art of Soup contest in collaboration with the Warhol Museum. PS Speaking of cool Warhol collaborations, the Dear Rich Staff recommends this.