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The ongoing tale of Shepard Fairey

February 5, 2009 |  4:21 pm

Anyone who is interested in street and political art in Los Angeles probably has known about Shepard Fairey longer than they've known about Barack Obama. The Times has been following him since 2004 and first profiled him in 2007.

Hope_3 But this is clearly his time. His "Hope" poster of candidate Obama turned from guerrilla art to refrigerator magnet to a spot on the wall of the National Portrait Gallery, left.  Now it's the object of a lawsuit of a copyright infringement claim over the original photo. He was even named a "character approved" by cable's USA Network.

The Times' Sachi Cunningham recently turned her video camera on Fairey to hear about the now-iconic poster and see how things work in his studio.

— Sherry Stern

Photo credit: Jewel Samadi /AFP/Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (5)

Prior to Fairey selecting this particular image to manipulate, it was just another random photo amongst thousands taken of Obama in the years leading up to the election. He is a public figure in a public building partaking in a public meeting being financed by the public at large. Simply because the AP paid a journalist for an image that was captured by a single camera at a single moment in time does not give the AP ownership of Mr. Obama's image. Additionally, if this image / poster campaign had NOT sparked the interest and intensity of duplication that it had, it would be a complete and utter non-issue. Basically, Fairey "traces" an image, adds layers and changes colors. So if I take a picture of a random protester in a march or even an inanimate object such as a bench and do the same thing and someone finds out the source photo from which my tracing came, does that give them the authority to claim MY artistic efforts as their own? Give me a break. Fairey made the image iconic. Not the AP.

What a bunch of idiot comments about Fairey. You people are stupider than you have a right to be.This guy Fairey has made a career out of lifting images that don’t belong to him then passing them off as his own. As an artist myself this is the lowest thing you can do. He doesn’t deserve any support as an artist. You people that believe he doesn’t do this are gravely misinformed and need to do your homework before you embrace your poster boy. Now I see the Obama picture was lifted as well! Great Artist indeed. Great hack non-artist is more like it.

It really doesn't matter whether the image becomes famous and makes money. If you take a picture with your camera, you have done creative work on your side. You own the copyright to the picture. That is the law.

AP owns the copyright on the original photo. Faire did not get permission to use the copyrighted image when he changed it into an artwork. The question to be decided is whether the artwork is far enough removed from the photo to not require permission (and no liability for royalties).

For example, if you write a song with the same melody as another, you may be on the hook for paying royalties to the original composer. Even if your song is written for piano and the original was written for violin. But if you create a poster with colors and shapes that represent the melody, this would be separated enough from the orginal form that you would probably not have to get permission or pay royalties to the composer. It is a question of degree of separation from the original.


Did AP pay Obama for use of his image? Petty bastards!

AP needs to stop whining... this is pathetic. Fairey is the artist of the poster, and AP's photo wouldn't even catch my attention and would've been lost in the millions with others.


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