Shepard Fairey

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I suppose people have heard about Shepard Fairey. He is the graphic designer and street artist who designed the “Hope” image of Barack Obama, which is now ubiquitous. This image is said to have played a role in Obama’s election. One would think that the US ruling class would richly reward Fairey for the service he has done for them. Instead, Associated Press is suing Fairey, claiming copyright infringement. That’s gratitude for you.

Personally, I don’t think the AP has a case. Fairey does not actually use the AP photograph in his work. Rather, he constructed the image based on the photograph. If AP wins this case, it could have a chilling effect on artistic expression in this country.

I was all set to sympathize with Fairey until I read his biography in Wikipidia. There, I read this:

    Fairey has come under criticism for appropriating others’ artwork into his own while failing to provide attribution for the work used. However, he has threatened to sue artists for the same technique. Austin, Texas graphic designer Baxter Orr did his own take on Fairey’s work in a piece called Protect, with the iconic Obey Giant face covered by a respiratory mask. He started selling prints through his website marketed as his own work. On April 23, 2008 Orr received a signed cease-and-desist order from Fairey’s attorneys, telling him to pull Protect from sale because they alleged it violated Fairey’s trademark. Fairey threatened to sue, calling the designer a “parasite”.

Does the h-word come to mind here? Part of the aesthetic of street art is the free appropriation of imagery. Apparently, nobody explained this to Fairey. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia notes that some people don’t consider Fairey to be a street artist. The article includes a photograph of Fairey wearing a business suit.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine spray-painting graffiti while wearing a Brooks Brothers suit.

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