Orange Prince: Fair Use or Communal Creation? A Theological Perspective

I have listened to two separate news podcasts about the Andy Warhol “Orange Prince” case. If you don’t know about it, I’ll link a news article to this post so I don’t have to recap the story.

As you can see he altered a photo and used it in his professional work believing this would qualify as Fair Use. The Supreme Court voted against that, and I was intrigued by both sides, for and against, if this qualified as Fair Use.

I’m going to respond as a theologian and soccer spouse. I know it is a weird combo, but I have an angle on doing work and giving credit where credit is due from both angles.

For me, none of this is about the law. I’m glad laws are in place bc they should uphold a baseline of acceptable behavior in our society bc people are not reliable on their own. None of us are. We need to know the expectations. And they should be CLEAR—NOT GOTCHA! That’s terror. The beauty of a functioning democracy is we can challenge and make changes to laws, or revisit what they mean. That’s what happened here with the Supreme Court. This is the first time I’ve listened to our justices sound like people who care about the law, not their ideologies. A sign of hope. And this convo was fantastic, I think.

As a writer, I know that what I do is like art: nothing is created from nothing. I must give credit where credit is due. It doesn’t diminish my work or erase what I built by crediting the person’s work who inspired mine. As a theologian, I see this as the beauty of a community building together. Not a competition.

I do have to be discerning, though. When is what I write changed enough that I don’t really need to cite their work? It has been transformed enough into my own creation—even though it came from something. God created from something too. (I don’t think God creating from nothing (ex nihilo) is theologically sound). I guess this is a question of if God needs to credit the water 💦 😉

As a soccer wife who just witnessed an incredible season by a team my partner built for 18 years and this year was the first year without him, I had some concerns about my spouse being properly cited for his work. This had nothing to do with pride, mind you; it had everything to do with remembering whose work built that foundation. It doesn’t take away from the one who continues to build off that work and give it a fresh new lens. That’s the beauty of art, and maybe we should consider that we are all artists in our own right.

Artists and writers care about these questions, for good reason, and it made me realize we might not ask these questions enough in sports. Maybe at the highest level, but there’s certainly no law making sure the work of those who came before gets cited. Should it be?

To me, this really has nothing to do with legality. I see the legal system just as a protection from those who seek to erase the work of others. As a theologian, what’s at stake for me is actually not about credit as much as it is about remembering. Remember whose shoulders we all stand on. Remember whose work made your work possible. It’s a communal act. And that’s beautiful.

You are an artist, even when citing others who made your work possible.

Nothing comes from nothing
nothing ever could.

(Something Good lyrics from Sound of Music).

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