Shepard Fairey speaks about the AP/Obama image

Shepard Fairey has just written an extensive piece about the AP lawsuit and the Obama image. If you’ve been following this story at all his post is worth reading to get his perspective right from the source:

I’m very saddened to see many people try to demean my Obama poster as being “stolen” or that because I used a photo I “cheated”. As far as the idea of the image being “stolen”, I would love to have the clout to command portrait sittings from world leaders, but for me and most artists out there, that is not an option. For lots of artists, even licensing an image is out of the question financially. Should artistic commentary featuring world leaders be stifled because of copyright of the reference images even when the final artistic product has new intent and meaning? Reference is critical to communication, and in my opinion, reference as a part of social commentary should not be stifled.

bush-hell-convertedHe gives an extremely sound argument about the usage of reference photos in the history of art and points out many contemporary artists who use reference photos all the time. Referencing photos for illustrations is taught in art schools and has been practiced since photography was invented. However I don’t think that is the most important point. At the end of the piece he notes that “If the AP wins their case, every Obama art (or any other politician) that was based on a photo reference that was not licensed would be rendered illegal… I think art that is critical of leaders that neither the subject or the photographer approve of need to be a legal form of expression.” Political art, for or against a candidate, almost always features an image as the quickest way to convey the idea (think of all the Bush images you’ve seen the last 8 years) – if the AP wins this case those would all be made illegal and free speech will suffer a very painful blow.

5 thoughts on “Shepard Fairey speaks about the AP/Obama image”

  1. I wonder if that 13th stupidest person in Los Angeles has anything to say about van Gogh and all the other “not a real” artists who used reference photos? Man, what a loser he was.

  2. People seem to forget that it was artists that first embraced the camera as a tool for their art. Later it became a tool for a new breed of artists in the hands of weston, o’keefe, adams and host of others. Thanks for sharing more on his thoughts, refreshing to see people stand up to gov’t or corporations rather than just rolling over. In all honesty I think the courts will support him on freedom of speech grounds more than anything else since he didn’t duplicate the source.

  3. AP will try to limit the case to a simple copying/copyright issue. I think Fairey would win on that issue alone, but as Fairey indicates on his website, his side will argue that the case is about free expression, specifically, political messages. It’s really not debatable that, as Fairey writes, he used a news photo for a wholly different and political purpose, namely, to promote the Presidential candidacy of one of the people in the photograph. And, Fairey added text to the image with a positive message to help promote his candidate. Judges are loathe to censor political speech. That’s why, if the case goes all the way to a decision, I think Fairey will win, and rightfully so.

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