It should be noted that Professor Lessig has served on the board of Public Knowledge . Public Knowledge (PK) is a public interest group based in Washington DC. PK’s mission is to defend “citizens' rights in the emerging digital culture.”. The group has been very active in fighting against legislation that strengthens copyright protection for musicians and visual artists. The organization claims that they are upholding the rights of consumers by opposing legislation that would limit or prevent fair use.
Now to the task at hand. On February 6th Professor Lawrence Lessig posted an entry titled ‘Shepard Fairey's AP troubles’ on the Lessig.org website. The message stated, “A bunch of you have forwarded to me the story about the AP threatening Shepard Fairey for copyright infringement. The Stanford Center's Fair Use Project is representing Fairey, so I'm a bit constrained about what I can say just now. More when there can be more.”. It is not uncommon for a legal eagle to remain hush, hush until more information is available. However, on February 17th Professor Lessig posted the following message on Twitter, he said, “We could use help on the Shepard Fairey/AP case.”. Needless to say, I decided to click on the link.
Upon clicking on the link I was taken to Professor Lessig’s website and an article titled, ‘Crowd-sourcing a “fair use” case’ . The entry stated, “As mentioned, the Fair Use Project at Stanford's CIS is representing Shepard Fairey in his suit against the AP. To that end, we'd be grateful for some net-based knowledge. How many photos are there "like" the beautiful photograph that Mannie Garcia took?” At the top of the article there is a comparison image that shows two photographs of Obama with Shepard Fairy’s ‘Hope’ in the middle.
From the Lessig website. The photograph on the left was taken by Mannie Garcia and the photograph on the right was taken by Steve Jurvetson. Lessig stresses that Jurvetson’s Obama photograph is a CC licensed photo.
On the same page Mannie Garcia states, “In a telephone conversation on the 17th of February, Shepard Fairey acknowledged that my photograph was used and that credit should have been given as such.”. It should be noted that the telephone conversation between Mannie Garcia and Shepard Fairey took place on the same day that Professor Lessig posted ‘Crowd-sourcing a “fair use” case’ on his website. This begs the question-- why would Professor Lessig suggest that Shepard Fairey did not use Mannie Garcia’s photograph or attempt to devalue the importance of Garcia's photograph within the context of the Obama posters knowing that Shepard Fairey had acknowledged the use of the photograph to Garcia earlier that day? Perhaps he was not aware of the conversation between Garcia and Fairey? Either way, the Fair Use Project is going to have a tough time suggesting otherwise.
From Art for a Change-- Screenshot taken from the "Bombing Science" website 7/18/2007, where the Fairey rip-off of the Mederos poster had been sold as a T-shirt.
In 2008 Shepard Fairey sent a cease-and-desist letter to artist Baxter Orr after finding out that Orr had made a parody of his Obey Giant image. Having viewed Orr’s parody I would say that it is “fair use” under both copyright and trademark law since by that time the Obey Giant image was known worldwide. There was no confusion about who created what-- people knew upon viewing Orr’s image that it was a parody and they knew who and what the image was commenting on. Let us not forget that Shepard Fairey has made a living off of creating parodies of copyrighted images and trademarks. However, that did not stop Fairey from claiming that Orr's image was not "fair use". Kind of reminds one of the views of Michael Savage concerning CAIR, does it not?
Baxter Orr’s image, titled ‘Protect’, criticized Shepard Fairey’s art as well as his status as a street artist. The image was quickly picked up by bloggers-- which resulted in further criticism of Shepard Fairey’s practice of “referencing” and status concerning the commercialization of street art. It was a prime example of why we have "fair use" in the first place. Apparently that did not sit well with Shepard Fairey. Fairey, as reported by the Austin Chronicle , called Orr a “mimic” and “parasite”. He did not agree that Orr’s image was “fair use”. He went as far as to suggest that it was damaging to the business aspect of his art. I would think that the Fair Use Project would have seen that as a call to arms.
The fact remains that Shepard Fairey tried to stomp out freedom just as Michael Savage had tried. With that in mind, shouldn’t Anthony Falzone and the Fair Use Project be critical of their client? Why did they extend him a helping hand in the first place concerning his past attack against "fair use"? Did they not know? If they did know I would think they would question Shepard Fairey’s integrity as they had suggested the integrity of Michael Savage be questioned. Perhaps they are just selective as far as their mission is concerned. Regardless, there is room to question the ethics and integrity of the Fair Use Project.
The key point can be found in Fairey’s reply on the Austin Chronicle. In the article Fairey states, “I have to deal with the bad end of it(copyright) sometimes. I’ve had to pay out.”-- he went on to say that the difference between him and Baxter Orr is that he will stop using an image once the copyright owner comes forward. In hindsight this opens a few questions-- why did Shepard Fairey not stick to his word concerning the Obama photograph and the Associated Press? Why did the Fair Use Project fail to give support to Baxter Orr when a famous artist trampled on “fair use“? Why is Anthony Falzone and Lawrence Lessig defending someone who trampled on "fair use" just over a year ago? The contradictions and hypocrisy is alarming. Where is the integrity?
Back to the Lessig article-- Professor Lessig’s entry closes with the following words, “please send any favorite examples of photos used as visual references for other works of art. We lawyers don't know much, but we can learn pretty quickly. Thanks for any help.” Help? It is easy to rattle the sabers by making this case into a 'media bully vs. poor artist' scenario. However, if we place the Associated Press aside and consider Shepard Fairey's past thoughts concerning "fair use"-- as well as the contradictions of the Fair Use Project-- it is just as easy to view this case as just another attack against the rights of the majority of living artists. One could also say that it is an attack on photography as a whole.
When evaluating Shepard Fairey's case against the AP remember that it is supported by individuals who have a vested interest in artists such as Shepard Fairey. Remember that it is supported by individuals who have strived to make it so that artists would be unable to challenge copyright infringement in a court of law as they can today. After all, an extended view of "fair use" implies that. Remember that only a small percentage of visual artists benefit from the extreme interpretations of “fair use” that Lessig and the Fair Use Project support.
The majority of visual artists have a lot to lose if “fair use” continues to be supported in an extreme manner. Should the majority of visual artists sacrifice their rights so that a relatively small number of visual artists can create with total disregard for the works of others? I don't think so. Should we devalue the legal aspect of works of art so that forms of art that rely on extreme interpretations of "fair use" can be secured? I don't think so. After all, it is not just artists like Shepard Fairey that we have to look out for-- I'm certain that many corporations would love it if visual artists were unable to legally defend the ownership of their work.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that some of these individuals would like nothing more than to see copyright made void. In my opinion, cases like this are nothing more than a clever ruse to take away from the rights of all artists. Don’t be fooled by their battle cry of upholding creative freedom. In reality these individuals stand for concepts that put your art and your business at risk. Isn't it hard enough for visual artists to protect their art as it is?
With the technology of today someone like Shepard Fairey can print off and use an image of an oil painting that may have involved months of work in the studio of some yet to be known artist. That said, the beauty of copyright protection is that said artist can defend his or her art knowing that he or she will be acknowledged. That is why copyright is important. Unfortunately, there are key players who hope to destroy that. They strive to take away from your hard work, from your business, and from your dignity. They will do this while waving the banner of creative freedom.
In conclusion, my opinion is that Lawrence Lessig, Anthony Falzone, and Shepard Fairey are going to need a lot of hope in their case against the Associated Press-- they are also going to have to defend some of their past positions, statements, and lack of action. True, “fair use” is needed. After all, artists-- such as Baxter Orr-- have used “fair use” as it is intended. “Fair use” is limited for a reason. If visual artists allow “fair use” to be extended in the extreme they can kiss the business aspect of their art, as well as their legacy, goodbye. If we stand for this I'm concerned that integrity will truly be lost.Links of Interest:
Public Knowledge and the Orphan Works Bill -- Myartspace Blog
Brad Holland Responds to Public Knowledge -- Myartspace Blog
Fair Use: Shepard Fairey and Baxter Orr
Take care, Stay true,