February 10th, 2009
08:49 AM ET
5 years ago

Obama 'Hope' artist files suit against AP

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.

NEW YORK (CNN) – The street artist who created the ubiquitous red, white and blue Obama "Hope" posters filed a federal lawsuit Monday against The Associated Press, which last week accused him of copyright infringement, according to court papers.

The papers argue that Shepard Fairey, 38, did not violate the AP's copyright on the 2006 photo of Obama, taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia, upon which Fairey based his work.

The court documents, filed in Manhattan, argue that "Fairey transformed the literal depiction contained in the Garcia photograph into a stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that creates powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message that has no analogue in the original photo."

A copy of Fairey's poster currently hangs in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington.


In addition to a ruling that there is no copyright violation, Fairey and his production company, Obey Giant, also are seeking payment of attorney's fees and costs.

The court filing was unexpected, according to the AP.

"The Associated Press is disappointed by the surprise filing by Shepard Fairey and his company and by Mr. Fairey's failure to recognize the rights of photographers and their work," said Paul Colford, director of media relations for the AP. He said the AP last week was in the middle of discussions to resolve the dispute and had reached out to Fairey and his attorneys over the weekend.

It had not filed suit.

The attorney leading Fairey's legal team issued a news release Monday saying, "There should be no doubt about the legality of Fairey's work."

"He used the photograph for a purpose entirely different than the original, and transformed it dramatically," said the release from Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University.

"The original photograph is a literal depiction of Obama, whereas Fairey's poster creates powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message that has no analogue in the original photograph. Nor has Fairey done any harm to the value of the original photograph. Quite the opposite; Fairey has made the photograph immeasurably more valuable."

But Colford insisted that "the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and its use required permission from AP."

On a separate issue, Fairey was arrested Friday on two outstanding warrants for property damage by graffiti, Boston police said. At the time he was en route to an opening party for his first solo art exhibition.

Officer James Kenneally said the graffiti involved images of the late wrestler Andre the Giant - Fairey's tag.

The graffiti artist is no stranger to law enforcement. In a recent interview, he told the Boston Globe he has been arrested at least 14 times.

– CNN's Jason Kessler contributed to this report


Filed under: Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (119 Responses)
  1. C

    WOW, THE STARVING BIG COMPANY ALWAYS TRYING TO KEEP THE LITTLE GUY DOWN!!!

    February 10, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. Cheryl

    Being an artist, Shepard should have asked the photographer for permission to use the photograph, in order to, rehash, rework, and redo Obama's image before putting out the Communist-style image out for public consumption. Being an 'artist', Shepard should have taken care not to impinge or attempt to expunge another artist's (albeit a photographer but isn't photography considered art?) copyright. The Obama Hope reworked photograph now-being-presented-as-art is now being used in art exhibitions, retrospectives, other artistic social events, and in coffee table books on behalf of Shepard with Shepard being given sole credit for the image. Do you think any of these events or Shepard himself credits Manny Garcia? No. Shepard needs to realize that if it were not for Garcia, he would not have had a photograph to rehash, rework, and redo and present it for public consumption as art. If it weren't for Garcia, Shepard would not have something to talk about now.

    Besides, Shepard is reminiscent of Andy Warhol. Shepard seems to lack the creativity to develop his own brand mark and insteads seems to rip-off other artist's style, devices, and substantive iconic value.

    February 10, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. Mariann Pepitone

    sean: Its hand drawn from the AP picture not from Obama sitting for the portrait which would be original. So why didn't he do that in the beginning. Because he liked the AP picture and decided to paint that picture. AP is right. The artist evidently wanted his painting to supersede AP's portrait. The artist did copy work just as Obama copied words from RFK's speech. What happened to originality.

    February 10, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. Eyes of Texas are Upon You

    I'm puzzled – who wants the stupid thing?

    February 10, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  5. phillygal

    come on! the AP just wants some money, leave the guy alone–he's an artist! Perhaps Obama should sue for painting his image....I guess you can't paint whatever you want, from now on anyone will have to call to get permission. what a joke

    February 10, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  6. Simon

    I can't stand it when some idiot exec or lawyer forgets about the concept of fair use.

    While fair use can be abused, this is clearly not one of those times.

    February 10, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  7. Mariann Pepitone

    John K. I am with you. You made the right statements. He should have asked for permission because the portrait belongs to AP. Why didn't he ask Obama to sit for a painting which would be an original painting instead of copy work. I understand Fairey has been arrested at least 14 times for graffitti. He took the photograph of Obama and painted the word HOPE on it which is a copied word in itself from another person's speech. Between him and Obama there is no originality in his painting and Obama's speech of Change & Hope.

    February 10, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  8. Michael Z. Williamson

    I have a dream...

    that some day I'll wake up, and the AP, 0bama, Fairey and all the 0bamabots will be silent.

    February 10, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  9. APisLooser

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA++++++++++++++++++++++++=Fairey

    February 10, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  10. Fred M

    I think that Shepard Fairey is the winner here. Truthfully I think its stupid to have so many copyright laws. Sooner or later companies will own everything and we will be paying them like taxes. A picture is a picture to me and no one should own the picture because they snapped it. This mean's that every time a i take a picture that i own it? Come on people, this is so stupid. The world has been reduced to people own pictures. I am so tired of this ridicules copyright law. Do people have to own every little thing in this life? It's all about greed and the almighty dollar.

    February 10, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  11. Marty

    It's pathetic the AP even brought this up. I can't believe anyone would even support the AP in this. The works of art are nothing alike. Just a stunt by the AP to try and rake in some money.

    February 10, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. FreeNLovIt

    They both should have equal rights to the property. He should get credit for drawing it, but he didnt get any attention UNTIL AP promoted it. Let's not be greedy.

    February 10, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. Fairness

    Fairey made no money from this poster. He donated it to the campaign.

    February 10, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  14. Joseph Janerique

    Obama means hope to us. He is the one that is going to turn our economics around, get our houses back, and getting us back to work. For us wanderers there must be no restless, as this are trying times. But if we can do we can to one obstacle, there´s nothing beyond our bonders to break the next. We will take measurefull steps along the years....

    February 10, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  15. Independent Thinker

    Wow. What a bunch of haters. It's amazing (although I suppose it shouldn't be surprising) how many people who obviously did not vote for Obama are trying somehow use this issue as a reflection on Obama (I'm talking to you, Proud American, among others). Obama didn't commission this guy for a portrait, and last I checked, he hasn't appointed him to any cabinet position, so attempting to link him to Obama is exceedingly pathetic. Do you really believe Obama even knows this guy? Give me a break. If you don't like Obama, then criticize him and judge him on the basis of his actions. You lose all credibility for any future criticisms when you're clearing just gulping down the hate-o-rade.

    I also tend to suspect that many of the people who are all too happy to bash the artist are doing so because they didn't vote for Obama, and that's just pathetic. As long as we continue to have people who can't think independently and confine themselves to their self-created ideological/political cells, this country will not be able to move forward and progress. Judge the situation on its merits and not because the guy obviously is an Obama supporter. Otherwise, just get your own talk radio show if all you want to do is find reasons to bash anyone and everyone that disagrees with your points of view.

    February 10, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  16. realist13

    Please, don't comment unless you've actually SEEN both images! The photo and the graphic work are NOT THE SAME! Not just the color - the IMAGES aren't the same. This wasn't done in Photoshop, folks. His image was created from scratch and he has stated he looked at the AP image as a model. Well c'mon - it's a dude's face! How many images were there of Obama's face? Millions? Did the AP photographer do anything special? Design? Lighting? Intent? Of course not. It's a stock photo. Nothing original.

    This poor artist finally does something that gets people all over the country excited and the huge conglomerate AP has to try to get its piece of the pie. What a shame. Let the poor guy be and get rich if he can on this; it's a great image and lots of people like it. The AP will be fine.

    February 10, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. Steve

    Proud American: "Why does the President surround Himself with plagierists and tax cheats?"

    I dunno. Why did the last president surround himself with war criminals?

    February 10, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  18. Peter of Oregon

    I'm with Fairey on this one... He definitely did transform the photograph. The painting is a different entity.

    February 10, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. candid

    I am tired of the repugs doing everything in their power to stifle the little man – sure sue the guy because Obama is now president. This image was used in the primaries, why now? I am sick of all this crap. All I am seeing and hearing since Obama became president is, "how can we disagree with Obama even if it hurts the country?" Get over yourselves AP and the other Repugs - times are changing and you are a dying breed.

    February 10, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
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