Shepard Fairey and appropriation

According to Wikipedia, “appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.” During the 2008 presidential election, Graphic Designer and Illustrator, Shepard Fairey created a poster of Barack Obama that became well-known as the Hope poster. Apparently, the image Fairey used as a source for his poster was a photograph taken by Mannie Garcia. Garcia worked for the Associated Press and took the photo while on assignment for his employer, so legally the AP owned the rights to the photograph. Fairey failed to acknowledge Garcia’s photo as his “inspiration” for his poster or request permission from the photographer, Garcia, or the rightful owner, the Associated Press. For several years now, Fairey has been in a legal battle with the Associated Press over whether his rendition of the photo was covered under “fair use” and therefore, was permissible by law. Fairey claimed to have used another photo of Obama with George Clooney as his source material and to have made substantle changes to it, however he later changed his story and admitted to using the photo the AP accused him of using for his image of Obama. The case finally concluded in 2012, with Fairey being ordered to pay a large fine, do community service, and serve a probationary sentence. The kicker of this story is, Fairey has threatened to sue artists for appropriating his work.

More recently, he was attacked in Denmark for a mural he made to commemorate a youth house that was no longer standing. Fairey thinks it was all just a big misunderstanding in regards to the artwork, because the mural was vandalized within a short time of going on display.

I completely understand being inspired by others’ artwork and wanting to build on it or create a different version of it, so I see nothing wrong with doing so, as long as you get permission. I can see both sides of this, because I have a lot of good photographs that I have taken and I wouldn’t want someone to use without my permission or acknowledgement of me as the original artist. I think Fairey could have easily avoided all of his legal troubles by simply requesting to use the photograph as the source for his poster. It leads me to believe that he thinks/thought the rules don’t/didn’t apply to him, for him to so blatantly copy someone else’s art. It still wouldn’t be right or legal if he was an unknown artist, but it may have gone unnoticed if his work weren’t out there in such a public way. It doesn’t get much bigger or public than a presidential election.


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