Jonathan Ellis and
Nicholas Hoffman represent a Stanford University art history professor who filed an amicus brief in a landmark copyright case, argued Oct. 11, 2022,
at the U.S. Supreme Court,
The case concerns a photo of the rock star Prince that artist Andy Warhol
used as a reference for a series of illustrations, one of which appeared on
a magazine cover after Prince’s death decades later. Photographer Lynn
Goldsmith alleges that the illustrations infringed on her copyright, while
the foundation that owns Warhol’s works argues that they were
“transformative” and fair use under copyright law.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Goldsmith and held that
only an art critic can determine whether a work reasonably is perceived as
conveying a distinct meaning and message from its source materials.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case will have implications for artists
everywhere, Law.com reported. To help the court with its daunting task,
Ellis and Hoffman represent Stanford professor Dr. Richard Meyer in an amicus brief arguing that a reasonable observer, not just an art
critic, can understand the meaning and message of Warhol’s “Prince” series.
Unlike most amicus briefs, Meyer’s brief doesn’t support either
party to the case and seeks only to aid the court in its analysis. Ellis,
who studied computer science before becoming a lawyer, told Law.com that he
was “not in any form an art critic” and was grateful for the opportunity to
work with Meyer, who translated his vast experience in art history “into
words that anyone could understand.”
A co-chair of McGuireWoods’ appeals and issues team, Ellis has argued nine
cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. One of those cases was a copyright
dispute, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com.
Before joining McGuireWoods, he served as an assistant to the solicitor
general of the United States and as a law clerk to Chief Justice of the
United States John G. Roberts Jr.
also wrote about the amicus
brief and quoted Ellis in an Oct. 12, 2022, story
about the case.