February 5th, 2009
03:10 PM ET
5 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. jaye

    This should be a shared credit – for the original photo and one for the artist that painted it.
    Save a lot of legal wrangling and share the credit.

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

    This is really sick. I hope AP is pummeled in to submission by a Biblical flood of letters from people who are sick to death of pure greed.

    February 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  3. Kono

    Seems to be to be just a paiinting of President Obama. How can the AP claim ownership of someone's likeness? President Obama should sue the AP for violating using his image without his permission.........

    February 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  4. Greg

    Practically every piece this guy's ever done has ripped off someone else's work without attributing credit. Sometimes of whole cloth. He's an art-stealing T-shirt industry, not a "street artist".

    February 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  5. boycott AP! and AP subscribers!

    remember how AP did their best

    trying to sabotage Obama campaign

    smear article after another smear article after anoter

    all the way up to the end?

    i bet the filthy spin machine called AP is full of

    AIPAC thugs and neo-con thieves.

    February 5, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. Doug

    If he finds the picture online, prints it out, sticks it up on his wall and then creates an illustration using it as a likeness from which to work, is that copyright infringement?

    February 5, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  7. Tom

    You may be technically correct, AP, but geez, your photo by itself is just a photo. Nothing special about it. What he did with it is what makes it interesting and noteworthy.

    February 5, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Jay

    I love that portrait!! but the law is the law, if he didn't have permission he is in the wrong

    February 5, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  9. Al

    Easy – just give AP some credit and a share of Fairey's profits (which being zero is easy to calculate)

    February 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. superandystar

    i don't think the AP has a case here at all. maybe if the guy blew up the original photograph and just glued it on canvas. but we're talking about paint here. the guy used an image as a reference for his artwork–it's not the original photo.

    February 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  11. Greg O

    Did Warhol face these kinds of lawsuits?

    February 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. boycott AP! and AP subscribers!

    remember how AP did their best

    trying to sabotage Obama campaign

    smear article after another smear article after anoter

    all the way up to the end?

    i bet the filthy spin machine called AP is full of

    AIPAC thugs and neo-con thieves.

    CNN, i dare you to post this

    if you are NOT a mouthpiece of AIPAC and neo-cons.

    February 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  13. FreeNLovIt

    It's a masterpiece. AP should own it if they are the one with it.

    February 5, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. Brian, Decatur, GA

    Stupid Petty Nonsense!! Grow up AP.

    February 5, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Roro

    Why has this come out now. Why did not not complain when Obama was not yet the President? I think they are being greedy. Shame on them.

    February 5, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  16. Stephen Emlund

    It will be interesting to find out the outcome of this. As an artist, I know that we use photography as a source of inspiration sometimes – So I wonder where the law is on this. What evidence is there that it is for sure an AP photo, could there not be hundreds of other photos identical to it? Afterall it's not THAT creative of a photo that can be distinguished.

    February 5, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. Rob San Jose

    Everybody wants a piece of the pie. That's how these fat cats get so fat!

    February 5, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  18. HRM, FL

    While it may be a AP photo originally, I believe it has been changed enough by the artist to be his own work now. Don't we have other things to worry about on this planet?

    February 5, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  19. Ben

    Unless Mr. Fairey took the photo himself, he has to get permission. You can't load a photo in Photoshop, mangle it, and then use it without getting permission of whoever took the photo in the first place.

    Surely though, "Photo by Shepard Fairey and the AP" is not nearly as exciting as "Photo by Shepard Fairey".

    February 5, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  20. Barry

    .... isn't anything and everything posted on the web in the public domain?
    I think the AP is looking for financial gain. If they had been so concerned, they should have had the image copyrighted.

    February 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  21. Bruce

    Am I supposed to believe that AP has the only picture of President Obama looking that direction from that angle? I find it hard to believe that one AP photographer managed to stand where nobody stood, and get him to hold his head as he never held it before.

    By the time Mr. Obama finishes his four- or eight-year term, there will probably be millions of pictures of him. Is AP going to claim copyright infringement on every photo that captures that angle?

    February 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  22. Alexa

    Unfortunately, given the clear resemblance between the final picture and the original, I gotta side with AP on this. I love the painting, but Fairey should have sought official permission to do a derivative work.

    February 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  23. Dipak Mahato

    This is unbelievable, especially considering that this guy is a street artist who has made NO PROFIT from this work. But, if the AP suit is successful, I guess it would be alright for the subject of any AP news article featuring their picture to sue AP for a piece of the profit.

    February 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  24. Jimmy

    The realm of copyright law is really unclear when it comes to the fair use doctrine. As I understand it, it has to do with how much the image was altered from the source material and how different the creative intent of the source material is from the new image that used it as a base.

    I'd say that Fairey is in the clear with this one.

    February 5, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  25. Nick

    Really? The AP painted it?

    February 5, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
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