Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Response to Shepard Fairey concerning his ‘AP, Obama, and Referencing’ message on Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

As I’ve said before, securing creative freedom is one thing-- the desire to legitimize irresponsible and disrespectful appropriation for profit is another. Creative freedom is not under attack-- the rights of artists to secure their artwork and images of their artwork by copyright is. The ability for artists to protect the market for their art is under attack.

Those on the other side of the aisle, such as Shepard Fairey, continue to wave the banner of creative freedom-- I wish they would just come out and say what their battle charge is really about. They want to be able to profit off of the works of others while at the same time protecting their ‘new‘ images from “profiteers“, “mimics“, and “parasites“. Shepard Fairey wants the best of both worlds.

Shepard Fairey then states, “This case has raised many issues, including the use of references in art. Some of my earlier works have been attacked by some as “plagiarism”. I think reference is an important part of communication and it has been common practice in the art world.” Followed by, “When I flipped through the Christie’s auction house catalog from November 2008 I found many pieces that are based on reference or appropriation. Most are selling for over $100,000. Some are more clever than others, but these are all works that are at auction being taken very seriously. Take a look.”

Shepard Fairey failed to mention that many of the artist examples he listed appropriated widely known images instead of a photograph that was relatively unknown as he did with Mannie Garcia‘s AP copyrighted photograph of Obama. For example, the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe was widely known, for the time, when Warhol used it. Warhol’s image quickly became iconic. Thus, under “fair use” one could parody Warhol’s Marilyn with little worry.

The same goes for other examples Fairey listed, such as ‘Jetsons’ by Kenny Scharf-- Scharf was a child in the 60s- it is safe to say that The Flintstones and The Jetsons were iconic long before Scharf used them in his art as an adult. The Marlboro advertisements that Richard Prince re-photographed were also widely known for their time. On a side note-- Fairey must not know that Richard Prince is having troubles of his own right now over copyright infringement.

Fairey then states, “If the AP wins their case, every Obama art (or any other politician) that was based on a photo reference that was not licensed would be rendered illegal.” Followed by, “Here are just a few that were an important part of the political discourse during this election cycle. I also think art that is critical of leaders that neither the subject or the photographer approve of need to be a legal form of expression. I think this Bush image is a perfect example. See Below.

Shepard Fairey is full of contradictions. Today he is the champion of artistic freedom and free expression-- for many he is now the poster boy for “fair use“. However, last year he had a different stance on artistic freedom and free expression. In an October 2008 article for US News Shepard Fairey mention that he planned to “go after” individuals who “hijacked” his style in order to make “copycat images” of the candidates. He stated that he would try to make the “bootleggers” donate their profit to the ACLU. The fact remains that Shepard Fairey is not the champion of appropriation that he claims to be. After all, his Obama posters were widely known by that time. One could suggest that parodies of HOPE and PROGRESS would be perfectly acceptable under “fair use” due to the iconic status of the posters.

Need further insight concerning the contradictions of Shepard Fairey over “fair use”? In May of 2008-- as reported by the The Austin Chronicle -- Shepard Fairey was infuriated when emerging artist Baxter Orr created a parody of Fairey’s 20 year old image of Obey Giant-- an image that was widely known… iconic in its own right. Orr titled his parody ‘Protect’ and placed a SARS mask over the face of Andre. Soon after Orr received a cease-and-desist letter from Obey Giant Art Inc. The Austin Chronicle reported that Fairey called Orr a “profiteer”, “parasite”, and “mimic” for having appropriated Obey Giant.

Fairey, according to the Austin Chronicle, felt that Orr’s parody of Obey Giant threatened the secondary market for his art. In the Orr situation Fairey made it clear that he was protecting his trademark. Obey Giant is a trademark-- however, there is “fair use” under trademark. Fairey knows this-- he has parodied trademarks himself. He also said that the difference between he and Orr is that if contacted by a copyright owner he will stop using the protected image. Apparently that does not count in regards to the Associated Press case? The contradiction don’t stop there.

Earlier this month, March 2009, the Pittsburgh City Paper reported that Shepard Fairey had sent a cease-and-desist letter to due to a store titled Steelerbaby. The store featured merchandise involving Steelerbaby , a doll designed by Larkin Werner. The official site for Steelerbaby features an image of the doll along with several catch phrases that visitors can click in order to have Steelerbaby say the phrase. One of the most popular Steelerbaby phrases happens to be “Obey Steelerbaby”. Thus, Werner created “Obey Steelerbaby” merchandise for his Cafepress shop. Cafepress removed all of the Obey Steelerbaby merchandise soon after receiving the cease-and-desist letter from Obey Giant Art Inc. However, Werner claims that he was not inspired by Shepard Fairey in the first place. Needless to say, Shepard Fairey felt that the merchandise was a threat to his trademark and the market for his art.

According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, Olivia Perches-- the representative of Shepard Fairey who sent the cease-and-desist letter to Cafepress-- has suggested that Obey Giant Art Inc. owns the use of ‘Obey’ and that artists can’t use the word ‘Obey’ in their artwork or designs. Chris Broders, a business partner involved with Fairey’s Obey clothing line, has suggested that the use of “Obey” becomes an issue when artists or other individuals profit from the “‘Obey’ mark”. He went on to suggest that Fairey’s representatives and business partners will do what they can in order to “protect" their "trademark".

Keep in mind that Werner only made just over $70 from Obey Steeler baby merchandise-- just barely enough to buy an OBEY hoody. Again, Werner claims that Shepard Fairey’s ‘OBEY’ was not on his mind. Even if it had been I would think that his use of Obey would be considered parody and that it would be acceptable under “fair use” due the iconic status of OBEY in general. Which begs the question-- does Shepard Fairey really support “fair use” and the whole of appropriation for that matter?

Again, this is just my take on Shepard Fairey’s message concerning the AP, Obama, and referencing. Read his message in its entirety in order to draw your own conclusions. I stand by my opinions . I want to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with being successful. I want artists to be successful. However, I also want emerging artists to be able to protect their work from the abuse of profiteers- like Shepard Fairey-- who take an extreme position regarding “fair use“ for their own gain.

I don’t care if it is a corporation, an artist, or an artist who owns a corporation-- they should not prey on the images of emerging artists. An artist can be successful and sustain a level of integrity. If the laws allow abuse perhaps they should be changed as far as visual art is concerned.

This is a 4 part rant:

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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