Shepard Fairey sentenced to probation, fine in Obama ‘Hope’ case

Los Angeles street artist Shepard Fairey poses in front of the Barack Obama Hope artwork he designed in this 2009 photo.
(Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press)

Los Angeles street artist Shepard Fairey received a sentence of two years’ probation and a $25,000 fine in the criminal contempt case involving his “Hope” poster of Barack Obama.

Fairey admitted in 2009 that he destroyed documents and submitted false images in his legal battle with the Associated Press over the use of a 2006 AP photo of Obama as inspiration for the poster. The AP accused the artist of copyright infringement; Fairey maintained that his artwork fell under fair-use laws.

He pleaded guilty in February to one count of criminal contempt for destroying the documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct.

The sentence handed down Friday by Judge Frank Maas of the Southern District of New York included 300 hours of community service. Fairey will not have to serve jail time.


Legal documents show that federal prosecutors sought a jail term for Fairey. The artist faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a maximum term of supervised release of one year.

Lawyers for Fairey argued for probation, writing that the nature of the artist’s crime did not warrant incarceration. They also cited mitigating circumstances, such as Fairey’s admission of guilt.

In one document, Fairey’s attorney Daniel Gitner wrote that the artist has already suffered a significant amount of “public shaming” as a result of his actions.

Gitner also cited Fairey’s advanced case of diabetes, which has affected his eyesight and requires him to wear an insulin pump. He argued that the type of low-level prison to which Fairey would be assigned wouldn’t be able to provide the level of care he requires, and would therefore constitute a harsher sentence.

At Friday’s sentencing, Maas noted the artist’s charity work and letters of support as mitigating factors in the decision.

Last year, Fairey settled his civil case with the AP out of court.

Fairey, 42, was present during Friday’s sentencing in New York. He declined a request for interview after the hearing. The artist runs the Subliminal Projects gallery in Echo Park. He has two young daughters with his wife, Amanda.

In a statement released on Friday, Fairey said that he accepts the judge’s sentencing and is looking forward “to finally putting this episode behind me.”


The artist said that his actions have been not only “financially and psychologically costly to myself and my family, but also helped to obscure what I was fighting for in the first place —- the ability of artists everywhere to be inspired and freely create art without reprisal.”

Fairey enjoys an international reputation and has exhibited his work at major museums and galleries. A major retrospective of his art was organized in 2009 by the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston.

He is also the primary creative force behind the youth clothing line Obey, which in the past has featured the “Hope” image of Obama.

Like many street artists, Fairey has been arrested a number of times for vandalism and putting up art without permission, but the fight over the “Hope” image represents the largest and most public legal battle of his career.


On Friday, Gary Pruitt, the president and chief executive of the AP, said in a statement: “After spending a great amount of time, energy and legal effort, all of us at the Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us. We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content.”

Throughout his legal troubles, Fairey has maintained an active public schedule. He contributed to the exhibition “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011. This year, he put in a vocal guest appearance as himself on Fox’s “The Simpsons” and teamed up with Neil Young to create art for the album “Americana.”