Fairey Obama Poster
As the Obama presidential campaign started to build up steam one image quickly became the unofficial symbol, that of the Obama hope poster. Designed by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey the image quickly went viral and became the iconic image of the campaign. After the election it emerged that Fairey used an AP image as the basis and since then he has become embroiled in a legal case over who owns the copyright.
When Obama was just starting his presidential campaign Fairey became inspired to create an image that would help the Obama’s presidential run. Mindful of the damage a “street” artist could do supporting a mainstream candidate Fairey asked advice from his associate, Yosi Sergant, a marketing/publicity guru who had ties to the Obama campaign. Yosi was able to get the go ahead from Obama’s people and after an Internet image search found one that he thought would be perfect. He made the poster in one day and sent it to Yosi who gave it a green light. This original poster had the word PROGRESS on the bottom. Immediately he did a run of 700 posters which he split giving 350 away and selling the other 350 to make money to do another run. The first run quickly sold out paying for a second edition of 4,000 posters that was given away at Obama rallies. The second run had the word PROGRESS changed to HOPE at the behest of the Obama campaign. In an interview with blogger Ben Arnon from the Huffington Post Fairey and Sergant recall what happened next:
SF:As soon as I posted it on my web site a lot of people that go to my web site saw it. Yosi also blasted it out to a lot of his contacts. It became very clear quickly that the demand for an image like that had not been supplied and that the Obama supporters were very hungry for it and also very motivated to spread it….
I think a perfect pop culture example of something like that is the Rolling Stones tongue logo. The tongue was a secondary logo on the back of the Sticky Fingers album, but it was iconic and simple. Now it’s sort of undisputed as the Rolling Stones logo even though it was never created intentionally to be that. It found an audience and it manifested…
BA: Tell me more about that initial run of 350 posters.
SF: Well, the way I’m used to doing things when I print up posters is I print some to sell and I print some to put up on the street. I fund the ones I put up on the street with the ones I sell. … I actually lowered the price on the print thinking that a lot of people might be pessimistic about Obama’s chances and it might not sell well. And I included my Obey star embedded in the Obama logo, not to try to highjack Obama’s credibility as some people have said. But rather, because I know that my hard-core collectors would feel that they had to buy the poster just because it had an Obey logo. Therefore, I was more or less forcing my audience to fund further perpetuation of the image.
BA: Was the majority of your audience that bought the original print Los Angeles-based or nationwide?
SF: Definitely nationwide. I had no idea that it would happen but immediately after those prints were sold out they were selling for $2,000-$6,000 on the Internet. …
SF:I had already read rumors that I was profiting big-time off of the Obama image. Even though that wasn’t valid, I was very cautious not to do anything that would even vaguely validate that argument. So I actually ended up selling a lot of fine art commissions of the Obama image to private collectors and using that money to print more posters rather than continuing to sell the posters. We’ve sold less than 2,000 posters and have printed over 200,000 of them. And we’ve printed 500,000 stickers.
Following the adage that the best defence is a good offence Fairey filed a lawsuit on February 9, 2009 against The Associated Press (AP) to declare that his Obama poster is protected from AP copyright infringement claims because the poster falls under “Fair Use Laws”. On NPR’s Fresh Air radio program Fairey had this to say:
Well, the AP was threatening to sue me, and they first contacted me and said, you know, let’s figure out how to work this out amicably, which I was [very] open to and said, you know, I’m glad to pay the original license fee for the image. For all the reasons I’ve already given you, I didn’t think that I needed to, but I’m glad to do it because, you know, I’d rather just make this easy for everyone.
And then they said no, we want damages. And then they ran a piece in the National Press basically saying I stole the photo, which as an artist that works from references frequently, you know, I feel that they’re calling into question the validity of my method of working … I felt that I needed to fight the AP not for myself only, but for a whole group of artists that would be self-censored, probably, because they can’t afford the photos and they don’t want to be in a legal entanglement over using those types of images to communicate a message.
On October 16, 2009 Fairey admitted that yes he had knowingly used the AP photo and had destroyed evidence to cloud that fact. In the ongoing lawsuit in April of 2010 a Judge ordered Fairey to say who if anyone helped destroy evidence that the AP photo was the one Fairey based the Obama poster on. U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered Fairey’s lawyers to “disclose relevant documents that were deleted or destroyed from Fairey’s files and when the deletions or destruction occurred.”
Further complicating the issue is that Mannie Garcia claims that its not AP that has copyright but him. He claims that his contract with the AP gave him copyright over all his photos. However when asked how he felt about the image he said that “so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it’s had,” but that he did not “condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet.”
In January of 2011 “The Associated Press, Shepard Fairey and Mr. Fairey’s companies Obey Giant Art, Inc., Obey Giant LLC, and Studio Number One, Inc., have agreed in principle to settle their pending copyright infringement lawsuit over rights in the Obama Hope poster and related merchandise .. In settling the lawsuit, the AP and Mr. Fairey have agreed that neither side surrenders its view of the law.” Also included in the settlement was a confidential financial payment.
In February of 2012 Fairey “pleaded guilty in Manhattan Federal Court on Friday to one count of criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct.” In September of 2012 he was sentenced in a Manhattan federal court, for tampering with evidence, to two years of probation and a $25,000 fine.
Frank Shepard Fairey is an American graphic artist whose work is similar to the Warhol pop art scene. His art, brand and logo based on the “André the Giant” emerged from the skateboarding scene and now his brand and slogan OBEY has a clothing line and print collection. He is seen as sort of expert on graphic art and was interviewed in the Chevolution movie about the Che Guevara image. His Obama poster was included in the The Smithsonian and he has works also in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.