Shepard Fairey Accused of Copyright Infringement

Saw this on Huffington Post, then Juxtapoz and now it’s spreading all over. Associated Press has accused Shepard Fairey of copyright infringement for using a photo taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia. So they now want compensation.

Shepard has not hid the fact that he used the photograph for the poster of Obama, but what I find silly is that AP has waited so long for this accusation. The poster has made it’s way around the world, has different versions, spin-offs, shirts, stickers and the original is in the Smithsonian. And now they come around? I don’t agree with going after him anyway, artists have been using appropriated images for years. Degas, Van Gogh and others worked from photographs that I am sure they did not take. So why wait so long? Make sure they is enough money to go for? Who knows, but I am interested to see how this works out. So many artists use images to make works from so this could be devastating and a new way for people to make money by suing others. Great.


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  • Reply
    Feb 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    The AP did not realize that the poster involved one of their photographs because Shepard Fairey failled to stablish the connection between the image and the photograph under fair use. Fair use implies that people will recognize the dialogue that is going on between the two images. Obviously Fairey failed so one could say it is not fair use.

  • Reply
    Feb 5, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    This is how I see it. It is not about how nice or lovable you think Shepard Fairey is nor is it about how hard he works. No one is questioning the good that he has done or how hard he works. What people are questioning is the fact that he has willfully infringed on copyrights several times. In one interview he actually said that if he is “busted”, which is what he calls being caught for infringement, he hopes that it is a “good bust”, does not involve legal action.

    People are outraged because the same thing that happened to the music industry is now trying to happen against the visual art industry. Contrary to popular belief for many of us art is a business. We create out of passion and if we can profit from it good. But how can an artist profit from hard work and dedication if an artist like Shepard Fairey can take from that work and do what he sees fit to it FOR PROFIT while holding on to a fragile foundation of fair use. If we follow Fairey’s idea of fair use all images would be up for grabs. He tends to use images that are not widely known. That is why fair use does not apply. The photograph of Obama itself was not a widely known photograph.

    I’m personally sick of people using Warhol and others to defend Shepard Fairey. Warhol used images that the public knew of. Everyone knew that his Monroe’s were a comment/parody of the famous photograph. The same thing goes for the soup cans. Under fair use today it would be perfectly acceptable to do that. Fairey failed at fair use because people did not make the connection between the photograph and his posters. That is because the photograph itself is not widely known. In order to claim fair use you almost have to use an iconic image as the foundation of the new work. Fairey is only saying it is fair use to cover himself and he is not doing a very good job of that.

    Since he donated over $400,000 to the Obama campaign from his profits selling the posters I hope that he will have to give $400,000 to the AP if indeed they are the copyright holder. I also think that members of the Obama campaign need to be questioned and perhaps included in any copyright infringement case that comes of this. Workers from the former campaign are now saying that they never suggested a photograph to Shepard Fairey but other articles from last year suggest the opposite. Either Shepard Fairey is a liar or the former Obama workers are.

    If this case goes to court and Shepard Fairey loses to the AP it will be a great win for artists who support copyright protection. It will help to define the limits of fair use… which ARE LIMITED in the first place. Copyright laws were not made to protect people who willfully steal. They were made to protect creators so that they will continue to create knowing their work is safe. If you have not noticed there has been a boom in the number of artists since strict copyright laws have been around. Copyright creates an environment that respects creativity. People would not openly show their works if they thought someone could use it without giving them credit.

    Maybe Obama will make a statement about the importance of copyright laws. I think he should apologize for supporting a poster that violated a US law. If he can take the time to send Fairey a personal letter thanking him for his images and for putting work on stop signs I’d think he can take the time to address copyright and why we have it in the first place.

    The poster failed at fair use because people did not make the connection with the original image. The basis of fair use is that you comment or parody another work. If that connection isn’t made fair use does not apply. Saying that the public or the AP is silly for not making the connection only helps strengthen the case against Fairey. Keep it up.

    There is only three reasons people defend Fairey. They are fan boys. They think a slam against the Hope poster is a slam against Obama. Or they don’t care about copyright in the first place. If this was just some kid posting altered AP images everyone would agree with APs choice to seek compensation.

    There are many artists who have alleged the same thing about Fairey. So if AP wins it will open the doors for others to file against Fairey. The guy could be a pauper before it is over and it is because of his poor choices. He should have learned after settling out of court when he infringed on the copyright of Rene Mederos.

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