February 10th, 2009
08:49 AM ET
9 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. ronvan

    Let's see. A photograph & an artist's painting?? When is the last time your camera spit out a painting instead of a photo? The AP must be in money trouble and looking to get some. Hope Fairey wins and puts them down the toilet.

    February 10, 2009 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  2. JIm

    Greed...

    February 10, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  3. Tony

    I know graffiti artists don't take copyright laws into account, that doesn't mean they don't apply to him. It doesn't matter whether or not your "purpose was entirely different from the original" since that's irrelevant; his graffiti is still a copy of a copyrighted picture.

    February 10, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  4. blaising

    Better dig up Andy's bones and sue him for ripping off Campbell's Soup.

    February 10, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  5. Had It

    Another example of Corporate trying to stomp down the little guy.

    Hope he wins the lawsuit.

    February 10, 2009 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  6. truthiness

    Can we set one thing straight, please? Shepard Fairey is NOT a street artist. Maybe he was in a former life, but he is no longer. Evidence of this? He is responsible for the horrible toilet-bowl-swirling redesigns of the Burger King and Mountain Dew logos from a couple years back.

    February 10, 2009 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  7. p orozco

    personally, I've thought this piece was overrated from the get go. And I love when graffiti artist cry foul when they get caught on legal points, after they make a name for themselves. If they enjoy being underground so much. they should stay underground.

    February 10, 2009 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  8. john

    I can imagine a world where artists have to ask permission and pay royalties to study, remix, and reinterpret other pieces of art. We will be left with blank walls.

    AP has no chance on this.

    February 10, 2009 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  9. California Gold

    Fairey used the AP photo. What he did with it isn't the issue. It's the fact he used it without permission. It's undeniable when you look at the original photograph and Fairey's poster, unless you are blind. Fairey is just hustling AP, who clearly owns the photograph. This isn't new. This is why we have laws protecting property. Fairey's work is cool, but he broke the law.

    February 10, 2009 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  10. Steve in Las Vegas,NV

    Funny how AP didn't say a word when this depiction Obama was seen everywhere until just very recently. Now they are foaming at the mouth about it...Why?

    If they had any claim they should have let Mr Fairey know long before this. Also, he has actually changed the picture, and didn't use it commercially. I think that AP dropped the ball when they didn't do a thing when this first came out.

    I think AP and the photographer should be very pleased that a photo has been transformed into something of beauty and honor, Maybe AP just wants some recognition here, but this is NOT the way to get it. This sounds like sour grapes to me.

    Good work, Mr Fairey, Keep fighting on as you are right. It is a true work of art.

    February 10, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. sean

    The AP photograph is not used in the poster as they allege. Rather, the poster is an original painting BASED ON the AP photograph. If one views the original & the poster side by side, the poster was not "traced" from the AP photo. It is hand drawn.

    AP's photo was not significant and had little commercial value before the poster was made. It would have been long forgotten by now if not for the poster being made. The poster GAVE it major value.

    AP lawyers are just looking at an opportunity to get even more money off of someone else work.

    February 10, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  12. AJAnderson

    I'm so glad he's standing up for himself. I agree with him: his work is not an infringement of the photo.

    February 10, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  13. watcher

    News services pay a lot to use AP images. Just because some guy thinks an AP photo was a public domain image since he found it on the internet doesn't relieve him of the same licensing responsibility the rest of the world is held to. It takes more than a little photoshop to transform someone's copyrighted photo into someone else's personal work of art.

    February 10, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  14. naqib

    Hope was replaced with fear...

    Only took three weeks...

    Change... yup

    February 10, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  15. Thebe

    I'm behind you all the way, Fiarey.

    February 10, 2009 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  16. demwit

    I love Obama..., he can do no wrong.

    February 10, 2009 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  17. Richie

    Wow - This is a depressing development. Why not at least work through the settlement negotiation process?

    February 10, 2009 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  18. Who cares ?

    Happy to hear that. Big co. Again trying to make more money.

    February 10, 2009 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  19. wasabe kid

    Fair is fair. I think the artist owes AP about a hundred bucks.

    February 10, 2009 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  20. Erik

    I HAVE A SOLUTION. AP, GIVE PERMISSION RETROACTIVELY.

    February 10, 2009 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  21. John

    Who cares. That's who. This is ridiculous, that looks like an old communist/socialist/national socialist/facist propaganda picture. It reminds me of pictures of Lenin, why they would anyone care where it came from if they were SERIOUS about politics.

    February 10, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  22. annoyed at AP

    Really, AP? Get over it. This is pathetic and you know it.

    February 10, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  23. Rick McDaniel

    If the image was based on a photographer's image, and that photographer is in ownership of their copyright, then there would clearly be infringement of copyright.

    On the other hand, if the photographer had transferred copyright rights to others, they would be in a position to allow the infringement, if they choose, at their own discretion.

    Infringement took place......the issue is......whether anyone wishes to pursue it. As a professional, I would.

    February 10, 2009 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  24. Jim

    So, by that logic, if I paint a "stunning, powerful" (and coincidentally commercially successful) portrait of, say, Wolf Blitzer as I saw him on TV, then my work would constitute copyright infringement.

    Jeez, AP grow up. THIS WORK IS FUNDAMENTALLY ART. Now go find some news to report. I think I hear the GOP calling for it's lapdog.

    February 10, 2009 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  25. Denise

    I don't really care who owns the portrait..I really do like Mr. Fairey's depiction of it...it adds more life to it!!! I want the poster for myself!!!!

    February 10, 2009 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
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