Shephard Fairey is a street artist who, before January 2008, was best known for his Obey propaganda featuring the wrestler Andre the Giant. In January 2008, he released his iconic “Hope” poster featuring Barack Obama. Fairey has been arrested 14 times in his 20-year career and, in recent months, has had much media attention in regard to his Obama poster. As it turns out, the Associated Press (AP) owns the rights to the photo and threatened to sue, since Fairey never received permission to use it.
This was after the image had been successfully used to aide in the election of President Obama, and also after the president sent a thank you letter to Fairey. Although the AP had threatened to sue Fairey, he initiated a lawsuit against them first. This month the AP has filed a countersuit with the claim that he has “profited handsomely” on his “misappropriation” of their image. They don’t mention that the photographer running their assignment, Mannie Garcia, didn’t have a contract, and that he thought Fairey’s poster was “a really cool piece of work.”
Though I’m sure Fairey has made a pretty penny off his design (whether directly or indirectly), he wasn’t suing for financial reasons but rather fighting for artistic freedom. In an interview with Boing Boing, Fairey expresses that he doesn’t mind that people are making a profit off their own bootleg merchandise based on his artwork. The design Fairey created is derivative of the original photo, but I think his style and cropping (he only took a portion of a much larger photo) fall under the fair use doctrine of the copyright law.
The outcome has yet to be determined, but the result could potentially change how copyright laws apply to artists and photographers. If you find any updates or would like to contribute your own thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog.