Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shepard Fairey decides that Steelerbaby does not need to Obey his legal team

Larkin Werner's 'Obey Steelerbaby' next to a poster by Shepard Fairey.
UPDATE: It appears that Shepard Fairey has dropped his cease-and-desist order against Cafepress and Larkin Werner's Steelerbaby store. My sources tell me it was dropped on March 10th-- days after my post about the issue.
Disobey Shepard Fairey by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
There are three rumors floating around as to why Shepard Fairey dropped his cease-and-desist order-- all of which suggest that he did it in order to save face:
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? After all, Fairey sent the cease-and-desist letter a week or so before his last interview on NPR. During that interview he suggested that he is going against the AP in order to secure the rights of all artists who work under "fair use". Perhaps he is finally realizing that part of that involves people being able to parody his widely known posters and trademark? Or maybe he just took a big gun away from the Associated Press countersuit?
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". Shepard Fairey often appears to have a selective interpretation of "fair use"-- as in it is OK for him to parody-- or comment on visually-- the work of others while at the same time sending legal threats when emerging artists parody his world renowned images. Due to this it has been suggested that Shepard Fairey is only interested in "Fairey 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. Shepard Fairey of all people should understand the double-edged sword of mass media. It can’t be butterflies and awards all the time.
Needless to say, Werner's 'Obey Steelerbaby' items have returned to Cafepress,
At some point the artist who says "question everything" must answer some difficult questions from fans, critics, and collectors concerning his ethics, the validity of his art, and the contradictions that have shadowed his career-- questions that can't be answered by a resume of good deeds. The sidestepping and using charity as a shield during interviews must stop if he is to be taken serious. To put it bluntly, post after post from SuperTouch and other Fairey friends can't hide the fact that people are demanding answers.
What are your thoughts concerning this situation? Do you think Shepard Fairey honestly supports “fair use”? Or do you feel that he is only interested in --as the Phantom Street Artist calls it-- “Fairey use”? Did the Fair Use Project make a mistake in representing Shepard Fairey? What is your opinion of Shepard Fairey in general? What are your thoughts?

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

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,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


Anonymous said...

I read on a law blog that the AP is going to bring up Baxter Orr and this in court. I think both are mentioned in the AP countersuit. The AP is going to want the jury to see Shepard as a hypocrite. If Shepard backed out of the C&D because of that it will not help him any. The AP will say that shows how deceptive he is ethic-wise. It does not matter with the case itself but it can impact the jury.

Anonymous said...


Here's another possibility, one that doesn't engage in the often self-defeating tendency to attribute the worst motives possible to people one doesn't like: maybe Fairey's views on fair use and legitimate appropriation have evolved as a result of his own dispute with AP. Maybe Lessig and the Fair Use Project have educated him.

Balhatain said...

Peter, with all due respect I don’t see my opinion of Shepard Fairey as self-defeating. I’ve read the contradictions-- I’ve seen the hypocrisy first hand. I picked up on it long before the recent blast from the media.

Remember that I’ve offered Fairey the chance to address these concerns several times. His pr people gave me the run around for a year concerning an interview with him. I assume they knew that I would ask a few tough questions concerning copyright-- that I would not let him dodge those issues as he has done so many other times during interviews.

I offered him the chance to speak-- to clear the air. In that sense I’ve been more than fair in my criticism. In fact, I probably would not have done as much research about him had he faced my questions from the get-go. I guess you could say that I smelled a rat.

As I’ve said before, if Shepard Fairey would honestly give credit where credit is due I would not take issue with him. I’m a strong advocate for copyright-- including aspects of “fair use”. However, I will not sit back when an artist abuses rights while silencing others.

I will say that I do think “fair use” should be limited when it involves one artist working from images that another living artist created. I realize that art expands from one generation to the next-- but I also know that the greats of the past did not have Xerox machines or computer programs.

Today it is easy to make an exact image copy of a painting-- image wise-- that may have taken the other artist months to complete. The market has changed as well. Today many artists are making a living or part of their living from their art compared to the past. Artists need to be able to protect their images due to the business aspect of art today.

If Fairey did not profit from the works in question it would not be so much an issue-- since he has profited it is. Especially since he tends to “reference” images and artists that are not widely known by the public. He would be better off making parodies of images by Warhol.

For example, some people thought that Rene Mederos had copied from Fairey. They were not aware of who Mederos was or that he had died in 1996-- years before Fairey used the Mederos image without permission from the Mederos estate. Based on the Mother Jones interview one can assume that Fairey did not even know that Mederos was no longer living. Which, in my opinion, blows the suggestion that he researches what he "references" out of the water. It is hard to pay homage to an artist if you don't know anything about the artist and don't let fans know about the artist until after being exposed, true?

That is the danger of a widely known artist claiming “fair use” when “referencing” works of art that are not widely known to the public. If someone parodies Shepard Fairey’s popular images there is little to no confusion as to who created what. Some of the artists he has sent cease-and-desist letterd to appear to know more about "fair use" than he does.

Anonymous said...

The Real Battle of Lost Angeles is taking place between the Phantom Street Artist vs Fairey where Shepard Fairey has finally been revealed for being nothing other than a rip off artist for over a decade and a half, then hiring publicist and legal representatives to clear his spilled mess of a name!!!

Now Shepard Fairey is trying to claim intellectual high brow appropiation of important artist like Warhol. When it rains it pours on Fairey's attempt to hide under the umbrella of “fair use” of only “referencing” works of art that widely known to the public. The Phantom Street Artist parodied Shepard Fairey’s to a Benefit Cage Match for Charity. All in the interest of Fairey reclaiming his Lost Street Cred.

Now Disboy DUH Shepard Fairey..
Must either Fight or Flight
Credit or be Discredit-ed!!

“Shepard pillages the work of important political and cultural movements and economically authors the oeuvre of artists like Rene Mederos and other political activists along with their motifs and images to advance his own market and public relations interest.”

The Phantom Street Artist