It’s getting uglier: Shepard Fairey one-ups Associated Press in dispute over Obama image

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Artist Shepard Fairey cut his teeth on the mean streets of Los Angeles, so he’s definitely not going to let some pipsqueak organization called the Associated Press push him around.

This week, Fairey responded to a lawsuit filed by the AP in which the news organization claims that the artist broke copyright laws when he used its photograph of Barack Obama for his ‘Hope’ poster.


Fairey’s lawyers said in papers filed at a New York court Wednesday that the artist’s use of the photograph is protected by the First Amendment as well as by fair-use laws.

But the real attention-grabber was Fairey’s assertion that the AP itself violated copyright laws when it used a photo of the artist’s ‘Hope’ poster without getting permission. In other words, he’s arguing that the AP can’t reproduce an image by Fairey that the artist himself appropriated from the AP.

Did we just fall into a rabbit hole? Here’s what Fairey’s lawyers wrote:

‘On January 7, 2009 The AP distributed a story entitled ‘Iconic Obama portrait headed to Smithsonian museum’ by Brett Zongker. The AP’s article included a photograph attributed to The AP, which depicted Fairey’s Obama Hope Stencil Collage that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.... The AP did not obtain a license to use Fairey’s work in this photograph. As shown below, the photograph attributed to The AP consists of nothing more than a literal reproduction of Fairey’s work.’

They also accuse the AP of similarly infringing the copyright on works by Jeff Koons, Banksy Keith Haring and George Segal.

We at Culture Monster know that L.A. art-hipsters can be a pretty sarcastic and smart-alecky group of people. (Call it a permanent state of ironic detachment.) Whether Fairey is merely thumbing his nose at the venerated news institution or if these new claims have real merit -- or both! -- remains to be seen.


However you look at it, this saga is long from over. Check back often, folks.

-- David Ng

Mannie Garcia/ Associated Press; artwork by Shepard Fairey