AP Wants Credit and $$ For Shepard Fairey’s Iconic Obama Image

Mannie Garcia/AP

for comparison purposes only

The Associated Press wants credit and compensation from artist Shepard Fairey whose popular graphic image of Barack Obama has graced lamp posts, bumperstickers, tee shirts,

the cover of TIME Magazine, and signed prints by Fairey costing in the thousands.  Fairey’s color block version of Obama was used on official Presidential Inaugural Committee merchandise, by and, in keeping with the artist’s underground roots, unofficially reproduced in lurid colors by vendors for bootleg tee shirts sold on corners during the Inauguration.

During the election campaign Fairey distributed a staggering 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters, funding his grassroots electioneering through poster and fine art sales. For the Inauguration, Fairey and his publicist Yosi Sergent staged an art show, Manifest Hope Gallery, the site of the MoveOn/SEIU  Inaugural Ball where hip political types and celebs  like Heather Graham and Rosario Dawson partied to the sounds of Michael Stipe, De La Soul, Santo Gold, and Moby while gazing on Obama-inspired art.

Fairey, who does not enforce copyright of the image, unless it is used for grossly commercial purposes, has acknowledged that his image is based on a photo taken by Mannie Garcia who was on assignment for the Associated Press. The photo is shown above for comparison purposes only. If the AP gets cranky and wants it pulled, you can find it here. 

Photographer Garcia, who is proud Fairey’s image of Obama based on his his photo will hang in the National Gallery, told Tom Gralish’s Philadelphia Inquirer photographer blog:

I’ve been on the campaign for twenty something months, so I would see the artwork, I would photograph it, and think what is with this image? But it didn’t snap. It never occurred to me it was my picture. I thought, ‘that’s familiar.’ I would see it and say that’s cool, but it did keep sticking in my head…I know artists like to look at things; they see things and they make stuff. It’s a really cool piece of work. I wouldn’t mind getting a signed litho or something from the artist to put up on my wall.

But the Garcia’s former bosses at AP (he’s now assigned by Bloomberg to the White House) have a less bohemian and art friendly view of Fairey’s poster. AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement:

The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission. AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey’s attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution.

 Anthony Falzone, Fairey’s lawyer who is also the executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University responded:

We believe fair use protects Shepard’s right to do what he did here. It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment beyond that at this time because we are in discussions about this with the AP.

 Fair use allows for exception to the copyright law, depending on a number of factors, and this legal tussle may come down to: Does drawing, re-processing and re-coloring Obama’s face using the outlines of the photo as a rough guide constitute copyright violation?

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.

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