Media Cover McGuireWoods’ High Court Amicus Brief in Warhol-Prince Copyright Case

October 17, 2022

McGuireWoods partners 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, reported.

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, 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 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. 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. amicus an Oct. 12, 2022, story