More fun with Shepard Fairey and the Obama image

Remember that little thing yesterday with the Associated Press claiming infringement on Shepard Fairey’s Obama image? You know the one where Shepard drew a picture of a small piece of a photo and the AP somehow thinks that isn’t fair use? The one where the photographer who took the photo the illustration is based on, Mannie Garcia, said:

“I’ve been on the campaign for twenty something months, so I would see the artwork, I would photograph it, and think what is with this image? But it didn’t snap. It never occurred to me it was my picture. I thought, ‘that’s familiar.’ I would see it and say that’s cool, but it did keep sticking in my head. I know artists like to look at things; they see things and they make stuff. It’s a really cool piece of work.”

Yeah you know what I’m talking about now right? The image that the Washington Post looked at in May 2008 and explained in detail how much work Shepard put into making the noteworthy and standout imagery from a random photo. You know what’s funny? Two weeks ago Reuters thought it was inspired by one of their photos – and the photographer Jim Young said he was “honored” that Fairey chose his photo to work from. Of course the Associated Press is no stranger to trying to redefine Fair Use, you might recall last year when they tried to sue bloggers for quoting their articles. (They’ve even targeted me at one point.) Anyway, the amusing thing about all of this is that it isn’t news at all and artists regularly appropriate imagery to make new and interesting works of art. Warhol & Lichtenstein are two mentioned prominently in this Supertouch article “THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE: SHEPARD FAIREY AND THE ART OF APPROPRIATION”. If anything, all this ruckus just makes Shepard’s work that much more noteworthy.

7 Replies to “More fun with Shepard Fairey and the Obama image”

  1. It’s not like there isn’t precedent. There’s Warhol. And before him, Duchamp. Also, Prince, Levine and many others too. As an artist, I wouldn’t put Fairey in the same category because he has positioned himself differently and it’s a different world now with the internet– something that AP will eventually get used to.

    What’s sad is organizations like AP that are stuck in the past, with their dead ideas and staff of lawyers who are, in these times, likely taking a hit financially (like the rest of us) and are trying to make themselves seem useful, if not relevant. They are neither.

  2. Chal,

    The AP isn’t “stuck in the past” with “dead ideas”. They are a business trying to turn the biggest profit possible. They did the cost/benefit analysis and decided this strategy would be the most profitable. Whether it turn out to be so remains to be seen. The legal and/or ideological issues are irrelevant.

  3. I have to agree with Oren. Even though I think Fairey would win the case if it goes to court, I don’t see anything wrong with AP deciding, even at this late date, to do something it might see as protecting its rights, if that is the case (or hell, just trying to grab some bucks with a cynical lawsuit), if it thinks that’s a good business decision. A company’s purpose is to make money. It isn’t a company’s role or duty to be non-douchey toward the creative community, UNLESS the company thinks that doing so is good for business.

    If we don’t like it, we can try to convince AP’s customers to ditch AP’s product. Apparently, a number of newspapers did just that after AP hired Rove-loving right winger Ron Fournier to run its DC bureau, and, according to analysts, AP’s stories suddenly took on a right wing, anti-Obama slant (which, by the way, may be one of the motives for AP’s lawsuit against Fairey).

  4. It seems the AP may not even have rights to the image. The photographer was not on AP staff at the time he took the picture, and does not want the AP to sue Fairey (see link below).

    The photographer is cool with it. Fairey is well within Fair Use rights, transforming the quoted image into something extremely different (so much so that the photographer didn’t even recognize it as from his source). And there is clear precedent in the fine art world for this type of transformative appropriation (Warhol, etc).

    Typical corporate BS in regards to copyright — both creators are OK with it, but corporate middle man who may not even hold the copyright wants to profit from an image that INSPIRED a piece of art done for non-profit.

    http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/content_display/photo-news/legal-news/e3ib47a6c218351ced3233220e49cf1bb29?imw=Y

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