Early last month-- before the NPR interview-- Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant Art Inc. sent www.cafepress.com a cease-and-desist letter concerning a Cafepress store titled Steelerbaby-- Larkin Werner‘s account. Obey Giant Art Inc. took action due to the fact that Werner had been selling a version of his ’Steelerbaby’ doll that involved the word ‘obey’. Shepard Fairey feels that the merchandise involving the word "Obey" is an infringement on his trademark. However, Werner claims that his use of ‘obey’ was not inspired by Shepard Fairey. In fact, Werner has suggested that “Obey Steelerbaby’ is one of several catch phrases spoken by the doll at, www.steelerbaby.com. The obey phrase is popular among fans of Steelerbaby.
A comparison of a poster by Shepard Fairey (left) next to a poster by Baxter Orr (right). Orr put a SARs protective mask over the famous Obey Giant image and titled it ‘Protect’. Fair Use? You be the judge.
This is not the first time that Shepard Fairey has attacked "fair use". In 2008 there was a story concerning “fair use” and Shepard Fairey in The Austin Chronicle. The situation involved the famous Shepard Fairey and emerging artist Baxter Orr. Orr created a parody of the iconic Obey Giant image-- which he distributed and sold. Orr-- being cynical of Shepard Fairey -- strived to make a visual statement about Fairey’s art and practice in general. One could say that Orr’s appropriation of the Obey Giant image was in itself a statement on Fairey’s practice of appropriating from other artists.
Viewers of the work recognized that Orr had made a visual statement about Shepard Fairey and the Obey Giant image. There was no confusion as to who made what. Thus, it did not take long for Orr’s image to be picked up by art bloggers-- which stirred debate concerning Fairey’s artwork, the copyright infringement allegations that have shadowed Fairey’s career, and Fairey’s own history of appropriation.
Eventually Orr received a cease-and-desist letter from Obey Giant Art Inc. However, Orr continues to sell his parody, now titled ‘Protect Yourself -- Giant’, for $25.00 on his website, www.baxterorr.bigcartel.com. Oddly enough, some artists have started to parody the situation between Baxter Orr and Shepard Fairey:
A parody of the Orr, Fairey, and Associated Press disputes by Dan Nolan.
I find it odd that Shepard Fairey suggested on NPR that he is fighting for the rights of all artists concerning “fair use” when earlier that month he had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Larkin Werner. After all, supporters of Shepard Fairey have suggested that the Associated Press has “bullied” Fairey-- some have went as far as to suggest that the AP has attacked "fair use". You would think these strong supporters of "fair use" would call Shepard Fairey out just as they have called the AP out concerning "fair use". Right?
One must ask-- where was Lawrence Lessig, Anthony Falzone, the Fair Use Project, and other supporters of extreme interpretations of "fair use" when Shepard Fairey 'bullied' Baxter Orr and Larkin Werner concerning issues involving “fair use”? Is Shepard Fairey truly fighting the good fight for “fair use” or is he, as the Phantom Street Artist suggested, fighting for “Fairey use”?
The contradictions involving Shepard Fairey are widespread. Unfortunately, the major media has barely reported on this aspect of Shepard Fairey and "fair use". Instead, most have conveniently championed Fairey as an advocate for “fair use”-- which is obviously false. If anything, Shepard Fairey is a champion for his own work involving "fair use".
In closing, I think Shepard Fairey needs to realize that artists can, and will, use trademark protected images under “trademark fair use” within the context of their own work. I’m not against “fair use”-- though I do think it should be limited. That said, if Shepard Fairey is allowed to extend the boundaries of “fair use” I think he needs to realize that he is opening the doors for his own work to be exploited by legal gray areas. My guess is that artists and other creative individuals will continue to disobey Shepard Fairey's copyright and trademark-- especially if he wins his case against the Associated Press. Be careful which doors you open Mr. Fairey-- they may lead back to you.
UPDATE: It appears that Shepard Fairey has dropped his cease-and-desist against Cafepress and Larkin Werner's Steelerbaby store. My sources tell me it was dropped on March 10th-- just days after this post. There are three rumors floating around as to why the cease-and-desist was dropped:
1.) Shepard Fairey did not want the negative press going into his case against the Associated Press-- kind of hard to be a champion of "fair use" when you oppose it, true?
2.) Lawrence Lessig, Anthony Falzone, and the Fair Use Project did not want negative press concerning contradictions of "fair use" in regards to their client-- Shepard Fairey. After all, the Fair Use Project supports an extended interpretation of "fair use" in general. It would not look good if their client flip-flops on his opinion of "fair use".
3.) Shepard Fairey did not want negative press-- period. It seems the press honeymoon is over. Recently Shepard Fairey has been ripped apart by the press-- a far cry from the constant praise he received for months due to his work for the Obama campaign.
Werner's 'Obey Steelerbaby' items have returned to Cafepress, www.cafepress.com/steelerbaby
Links of Interest:
Steelerbaby Blues by Chris Young -- Pittsburgh City Paper
Fair Use: Shepard Fairey and Baxter Orr by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
Birds of a Feather Flock Together: Damien Hirst & Shepard Fairey / Cartrain & Baxter Orr by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
Artist Cage Match: Fairey vs. Orr by Richard Whittaker -- The Austin Chronicle
Integrity Lost: Lawrence Lessig helps Shepard Fairey by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
The Phantom Street Artist speaks out against Shepard Fairey in Citizen LA by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
Take care, Stay true,