CNN Political Ticker

Obama 'Hope' artist files suit against AP

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