February 5th, 2009
03:10 PM ET
9 years ago

AP charges copyright infringement on famous Obama image

Fairey stands next to his famous depiction of Obama at the National Portrait Gallery.

Fairey stands next to his famous depiction of Obama at the National Portrait Gallery.

(CNN) - The Associated Press is claiming ownership of the most famous image of the presidential campaign: Shepard Fairey's “Hope” depiction of President Obama in red, white and blue.

The image itself, which now has a home in the National Portrait Gallery, is based on a 2006 AP photograph — and the news service says it deserves credit, and a share of the massive profits Fairey's depiction has generated.

“The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission," the AP's director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement released Wednesday. "AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey's attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution."

Anthony Falzone, Fairey's attorney, says fair use protects his client's rights from using the photograph as a basis for his image. The concept of fair use allows breaches of copyright law based on the degree to which the original image is used, among other factors.

Fairey, a Los Angeles street artist, has said he found the image online and created his now-famous depiction in early 2008. He says he has not profited at all from the work, which he donated to the Obama campaign.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. johnny the boy

    Pay the AP their money!

    February 5, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. Duh

    he broke the copyright law. this is an open and shut case. pay up.

    February 5, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. producer

    CNN need to make a correction. The "fair use" doctrine in copyright law does NOT allow breaches to copyright – just the opposite. When a work is covered by "fair use" that means that work in fact is NOT a breach of copyright. Also, when "fair use" is applicable, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the "degree to which the original is used". Fair Use is based on things such as satire, educational use, research, etc.

    Do some basic research CNN.

    February 5, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    As the oldest wire service in the country, AP should know better. Clearly, this image falls under a protection of copyright called "transitive values in art" which means that, as long as you change something enough to make it your own, there is no infringement. Know your mass comm. law, Associated Press.

    February 5, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. Bill

    money is the root of all evil

    February 5, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  6. Sarah for Prez

    He "found" the image online. Like it was just lying around. And now Obama's profitting from the AP's work. Shameful.

    However, the AP, like most main stream media, helped get him elected. So deal with it AP.

    February 5, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Bassplaynfoo

    Here's a better idea. Let's have media outlets pay for any elected politicians and celebrities images. Let's have the ability to copyright those and see who starts to cry fowl! Anybody should have the right to copyright their image. The paparazzi would love that.
    Money, money, money. Shameful.

    February 5, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  8. Joseph Cecil Horne Smith jr

    The people's president, but those posters sell for over $hundreds of dollars, nobody's profiting? someone is, the price should be about 5$, 50c for the sticker, 75c for the greeting card.. this depression/economy serves notice that profiteering hurts the broader economy.. this image was an easy to make photoshop 'posterized' photo .., the real creativity is 1 the red.blue unity, 2, obama himself is the real creator, and we the people are the ones who hold him up.. it's our photo as much as anyone elses.. AP is right to note they took the photo, but please, quit fighting over the leftovers..

    February 5, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. Xena

    Gee CNN, why don't I see you reporting that Senator Graham just slam dunked Obama?? Why are you not reporting this?? You don't want your Messiah critizied??? It is only beginning.

    February 5, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  10. Alessandro

    Wether Fairey's poster meets the requirements for fair use should be determined by a court of law, or agreed upon by the parties.

    If a photo I took was used without my permission by someone else I would expect to be compensated as well.

    Farey, as an artist should have shown more respect for others' Intellectual Property.

    February 5, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  11. shaking my head

    As a professional photographer myself – I would be disappointed if I found that someone used an image of mine for their own purposes without any inquiries for copyright release. This is stealing. Think of it as plagiarism through art.

    February 5, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  12. Dick

    AP give it up, what a joke. What a waste of time.

    February 5, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    Hmmm...this from the news source that errantly declared McCain a winner of one of the debates? Yeah, I think we know how clear-headed and objective they are about Obama receiving campaign donations as a result of this painting. Imean seriously, the only person I ever saw claim that McCain won one of the debates was Bay Buchanan and everyone knows she's completely loopy.

    February 5, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  14. Mark

    I saw this image walking by a billboard the other day, but instead of the graphic that is on his lapel in this photo, the one I saw showed a swatstika (sp). This isn't the first time I've noticed the comparison between 'he who must not be named' and President Obama. Can someone please explain the correlation? Thanks in advance.

    February 5, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. Alessandro


    the reason they're only complaining now is that AFTER Obama won a few enterprising bloggers set on a quest to find out what the poster was based on. When they eventually found the original photo the photographer responsible became aware of the violation.

    Fairey may not have directly SOLD the poster but it's disingenous to state that he has not made a profit from it. What do you think is going to happen to Fairey's art going forward? Do you think that having made THIS poster is going to make his other art MORE or LESS sought after?

    As far as I'm concerned, he stole a photographer's image, plain and simple.

    February 5, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  16. Nick the Photographer

    As a Photographer, I feel that this is infringement on the copyright owner. I don't feel that the image that was used was modified enough. It's still the same composition and pose as the original picture. Just coloring on it, and adding text at the bottom doesn't make it your own.

    February 5, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  17. VPDesign

    Fairey was wrong if in fact he did use an AP photo without asking permission regardless if he profited from it. Regardless of fair use people must take a step above the law...when in doubt of ownership get authorization for use or re-use of content or find different content. How would he like it if someone took his original photo/art and "borrowed" it to make an iconic work and pass it off as original art. Many photographers and digital artists (me included) rely on our unique and original work as our livelyhood. Example: my company's registered logo and patented arm profile image was pilfered by some YouTube member to use as his home page icon. His buddy found it slapped the other kids username on it and bragged up the new logo "created" by his friend. This potentially could dilute the company's image it's worked for years to build or cause market and customer confusion if the user continued use beyond YouTube. We reported to YouTube via the click report that the image was in violation, however we had not seen it taken down right away.

    February 5, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. Nick the Photographer

    Furthermore, they should get money from the artist for the infringement and then donate that money to one of Obama's favorite charities.

    February 5, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. Brandon

    Was Obama all red and blue like that when the picture was taken? Were those words down there in the original image? No. Those were artistic additions. You can take somebody's original work and if you make enough substantive change to it it becomes *your work*. The AP's lawyers don't seem too qualified to me if they've advised their client to sue this artist. This is most assuredly fair use of the original image.

    February 5, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  20. Rob

    HOW DARE THE AP do this to a portrait of The Enlightened One, His Most Holy On High. The AP has committed an incredible sin! Thou hast sinned, AP! Eternal damnation be unto thee for thine actions against anything involving The One.

    Don't you know that if you don't let this portrait to be displayed wherever, and try to claim credit for it, that the US will never get out of this recession?

    February 5, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. Dan, TX

    Well, if he didn't make any money himself, but he "gave" the image to the Obama campaign, then he had to have claimed that he was the sole owner of the work. Therefore, he is liable for whatever the estimated worth of the image was to the Obama campaign. If the image was on a mug, how much of the mug's value was due to the image being on the mug rather than just wanting to support the Obama campaign by buying campaign issued items. There is no clear way then to assign a monetary value. Hence, there doesn't seem to be much, if any, money to sue for. However, going forward, that image should now have a cost associated with it so that any future earnings are shared by the artist and the AP. So hopefully, going forward it is a win-win. It was clearly a donation of the artist and, unwittingly, the AP to the Obama campaign. And for that, we thank you.

    February 5, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  22. Baze

    You knew it was only a matter of time before people started claiming ownership of the Obama image and suing for infringements. I say throw his face on apparel and jumpstart the retail economy.

    February 5, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  23. Marina in Seattle

    If you look at the photo and the poster side by side, the similarities are small. The poster is not a copy of the photo in any way, It's an original work. Shame on you greedy AP!

    February 5, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  24. walter and Carol

    Here is a kid trying to surive and ap wants to take it away give the guy a break ap has enough money dont br greedy........................

    February 5, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  25. ijoe

    LOL ! they did'nt expect obama to win.ur loss AP

    February 5, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
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