Well, this is something: artist Shepard Fairey has plead guilty to criminal contempt in federal court and awaits sentencing which may involve up to six months in prison.
Shepard Fairey’s career had already been on a steady rise when he created the now infamous HOPE poster in support of the Obama 2008 presidential campaign. When questions of source material and possible copyright infringement on an Associate Press-purchased photograph started popping up, Fairey insisted that his work was protected under fair use laws; essentially this means that any artist can take source material and use it as inspiration so long as it falls under the following:
– criticism and comment (including parody and satire)
– news reporting
– teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use)
– scholarship and research.
In addition to these basic guidelines, other secondary criteria include these vital tidbits:
– the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole,
– How much has the work been transformed, and does the new work have a significantly different purpose or function than the original copyrighted work.
Other major issues include whether or not the new work harms the money-making ability of the original piece, why the original piece was created to begin with.
Well, Fairey had long contended that he had used a particular photo as source material, one that was taken at a press event that had Obama and George Clooney chillin’ in front of the American Flag. As one does. He went so far as to sue the AP and demand the courts claim he did not, in fact, infringe on the AP’s copyright. Then the AP counter-sued, because, well, they were pretty sure Fairey did steal their purchased image. So, it was an art-legal clusterfuck.
Then they settled and everything was wonderful.
Well, turns out, in what was now clearly a subconscious attempt at self-destruction, Fairey lied. Bigtime.
He said he used one image, but in reality used another.
He then proceeded to lie to his lawyers and the court, and the AP for the duration of the case about what his source material was.
He then falsified documents and deleted others in an attempt to cover his tracks, furthering the deception.
He then prepared ‘eyewitnesses’ who were meant to lie in court as to Fairey’s source material.
And then he got caught by his own employee, months after he settled the case. And, well, as many people with a soul that’s been knotted and gnarled with lies and deceit, he caved and confessed.
“Violating the court’s trust was the worst thing I have ever done in my life,” said Fairey, 42, of Los Angeles. “I was ashamed as I did all these things, and I remain ashamed.”
This whole thing is a fucking mess.
It’s a mess because what started as what I would consider a solid case of fair use, one that could be clearly and reasonably argued in court with previous court decisions to back up his case, he lied. Instead of letting the public cry of infringement fall by the wayside and simply stating that HOPE is a clear derivative work with meaning and intent completely altered through his transformation of the image, he sued someone, thus opening himself up for even further scrutiny.
Instead of fighting the good fight, Fairey cheated. And while it is moderately laudable that he ultimately confessed and is ready to accept responsibility for this, he has helped inflame an already menacing environment where artists’ rights and reputations continue to be hammered-away at. And while the act of one shouldn’t affect the rights of others, we all know that the culture wars are not over and the ability to freely create meaningful work will be challenged continually, and to have such an important artist make such a massive, public, mistake means a magnifying glass on all our houses.
Shit, son. I feel like a disappointed parent.