From the editor: Artist judged unlawfully hopeful

March 19, 2009

by Meredith Maines

Owners of ever-popular Obama wall art could be accused of contributory copyright infringement.
Just suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that statement could be true.
Someone would have to be in this same subjunctive state of mind to also believe the following situation to be anything short of fantastical.
In what I will boldly call an asinine move by the Associated Press, Obama “HOPE” poster artist Shepard Fairey is being sued for a breach of copyright.
The now-iconic illustrated portrait plastered across bus stops originated as an AP photo taken in 2006 while Obama still occupied the Illinois Senate seat.
In the lawsuit against the artist filed March 11, the news agency accuses Fairey of “wholesale copying” the photo and exercising a “computerized paint-bynumbers,” according to wired.com.
Usually I would be the first to take the
AP’s side. In journalistic circles, it is “god;” the AP Stylebook is quite literally
our holy writ. But this overreaction
oversteps the boundaries of my loyalty.
AP head execs must not be aware our School of Art rule, “It’s not cheating/stealing if you change it 50 percent.”
Fairey did adhere to that honesty principle, judging from his extensive Photoshop manipulation, and he even explained that his interpretation of the photo came to symbolize something greater than could just the original snapshot, a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual
image that creates powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message.”
Heaven knows Obama isn’t complaining about all the free press the posters produced. I
wonder if his views on copyright infringement reflect accordingly.
The Boston Globe reported Obama sent Fairey a typed letter that reads, “I am privileged to be a part of your art work and proud
to have your support.”
So should Obama be held up for contributory infringement as well?
The even bigger laugh is that all of this has happened before. Anybody recognize the name AndyWarhol?
The infamous Pop Art-era icon is renowned for his flat reproductions of Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe’s face, montages of shoes and the stardom of ’60s it-girl, Edie Sedgwick.
But even someone with such cultural credibility was the object of a similar suit. Campbell’s took legal action against its label being plastered across the public eye… until its marketers thought better
of it.
Soon they dropped the suit due to the gratis publicity benefit.
So consider this. Warhol, whose entire purpose was to appropriate cultural images, was never convicted of such a crime.
Fairey, whose artwork obviously took on a subjective symbolism absent from Warhol’s, is being held under the guillotine.
Hopefully the nation’s most esteemed news service will develop the brains of an equally recognizable soup company.

Meredith Maines is a junior journalism
and communication design major from Shreveport who serves as editor of The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to mhm015@latech.edu.