The Los Angeles artist behind an iconic poster that became a symbol of President Barack Obama’s campaign four years ago pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor Friday stemming from his actions during a copyright dispute over the poster.
At a hearing in Manhattan federal court Friday, Shepard Fairey, 42 years old, admitted that he fabricated documents and lied during the discovery process in copyright litigation with the Associated Press. As a result, he violated a judge’s order.
☛ The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog: “Obama ‘Hope’ Artist Pleads Guilty To Contempt” by Chad Bray, February 24, 2012.
By now this case is well known. Artist Shepard Fairey used a copyrighted photograph by The Associated Press to create his very famous “Hope” poster back in 2008. AP’s photograph Mannie Garcia asked for credits and compensation. Lawyers of both parties discussed the problem, seeking an amicable agreement. By then, Shepard Fairey filled what looked like a preemptive lawsuit against AP asking for a “declaratory judgment” stating that AP’s photo appropriation fell under the fair use doctrine. AP’s then filled its own lawsuit accusing Fairey of copyrights infringement. Both parties finally settled on January 2011.
The count of criminal contempt to which Fairey just pleaded guilty is only indirectly linked to his litigation with AP. His sentence, which will be announced in July 2012, has to do with his attitude and behavior toward the Federal Court, not toward The Associated Press.
For more information about this case, see:
- Reuters: “Shepard Fairey Pleads Guilty in Obama ‘Hope’ Poster Case” by Tim Kenneally, February 24, 2012.
- British Journal of Photography: “Shepard Fairey pleads guilty to contempt charge” by Olivier Laurent, February 24, 2012.
- The New York Times: “Shepard Fairey and The A.P. Settle Legal Dispute” by Randy Kennedy, January 12, 2011
- Wikipedia: “Shepard Fairey: Legal issues with appropriation and fair use” (page consulted on February 29, 2012).
The irony of the whole copyright dispute between Fairey and AP is also well known. In 2008, when artist Baxter Orr used a slightly modified version of one of Fairey’s iconic creation ―the Obey Giant icon―, Fairey sent him a cease & desist letter asking for the removal of all “borrowed” illustrations from his website (Animal New York has a copy of the letter). When AP countersued Fairey, they didn’t miss the opportunity to point out what appeared to be a contradiction: when Fairey uses work by others, it’s fair use, but when others use Fairey’s art, it’s copyright infringement. For more, see Wired.com: “AP Blasts Obama ‘Hope’ Artist in Copyright Flap” by David Kravetts, March 11, 2009.
Finally, for an interesting exploration of the issues at stakes here (appropriation, fair use, intellectual property, copyrights) I recommend watching the recently released Part 4 of the video series Everything is a Remix produced and directed by Kirby Ferguson (or watch it directly on Vimeo):