Friday, April 17, 2009

If Shepard Fairey can do it...

Shepard Fairey and his legal team have once again responded to the Associated Press. This time artist Shepard Fairey and his lawyer, Anthony Falzone of the Fair Use Project, suggest that the AP is hypocritical concerning their stance on copyright and the defense of “fair use”.

In a nut shell-- Fairey and Falzone have offered different examples of AP photographs of artwork-- from exhibit coverage and history in the making-- that were taken without “permission” -- all of which were taken for the purpose of reporting and newsgathering. Concerning the use of images without permission or licensing Fairey has boldly stated, “If the AP has the right to do what it’s done, then so do I.”.

Fairey and Falzone also suggest that the AP has listed the images for sale on The AP's image licensing database as a commercial product for "professional photo buyers.". However, sources have told me that the “professional photo buyers” are other news agencies and museums who desire to document the historic significance of the photographs. The AP also offers images for personal use-- such as a photograph of a historic event to hang in your home. However, I was not able to find any of the mentioned photographs listed for personal use.

Note: One thing I noticed about Shepard Fairey and Anthony Falzone’s statement is that they conveniently left out some key details about the photographs the AP offer for sale. Thus, I invite you to look at what the AP says about the images they offer for sale :

“AP Images is a source of images for professional photo buyers. However, you can purchase open edition reprints of AP photos for home or personal use through our partner Pictopia. Using state-of-the-art laser enlargers to produce museum-grade photographs and special archival materials in production and framing, Pictopia creates images that will last a lifetime. Images purchased for personal use may not be used commercially (in publications, brochures, advertisements, copies to sell, etc.) or reproduced for any use.”

Shepard Fairey’s recent statement can be found on his Obeygiant website as well as his blog on The Huffing Post . Know in advance that the Huffington Post moderator will most likely not accept a comment if the comment sides with the AP on this case or points out specific contradictions involving Shepard Fairey & Obey Giant Art Inc. concerning “fair use“.
Note: Keep in mind that Shepard Fairey is known for sending cease-and-desist letters to artists who comment on or parody his widely known artwork. In other words, you probably won’t find Baxter Orr or the creator of Steelerbaby mentioned in the comment section of The Huffington Post article titled, 'If the AP Has the Right to Do What It’s Done, Then So Do I'. Why? Because Shepard Fairey is not the champion of “fair use“ that he portrays himself to be.
Allow me to expose some of the contradictions of Shepard Fairey’s recent statement. Fairey declares, “As I have stated before I am fighting the AP to protect the rights of all artists…”-- if that were true-- if Shepard Fairey felt so strongly about the rights of fellow artists-- wouldn’t he respect the exclusive rights that artists have under copyright? Or the exclusive rights that the estates of deceased artists, such as the Rene Mederos estate , have under copyright?
Rene Mederos’s work was still protected under copyright when Fairey decided to use one of his images for a shirt design without permission, credit, or compensation. His reason-- after being exposed for infringement I might add-- for not contacting the copyright owner can be found in an interview Shepard Fairey had with Mother Jones-- "Well, how would I ever pay this guy anyway because he's in Cuba?" . Obviously the estate of Rene Mederos had no problem contacting Shepard Fairey. The shirt design was pulled from production and distribution.
Fairey goes on to suggest that he would like everyone to have the same “broad rights of fair use and free expression“ that the media, such as the AP, has. What Fairey fails to understand is that the defense of “fair use” favors newsgathering sources. That said, I’m sure that Fairey and his company, Obey Giant Art Inc., would love to have the same extended interpretation of “fair use” for his commercial interest. One could suggest that Shepard Fairey needs an extended interpretation of "fair use" to dominate in order to have continued success. Does he really want that though? Perhaps members of the Fair Use Project are whispering in his ear?
If Shepard Fairey's statement were honest-- which it is not if you go by his past actions-- why did he send cease-and-desist letters to Baxter Orr and Steelerbaby ? Why did Fairey call Orr a “parasite”, “mimic”, and “profiteer” for claiming the defense of “fair use” after Orr made a social comment and parody of Fairey‘s widely known ObeyGiant image? Why did Obey Giant Art Inc. representative Olivia Perches state "Anything with 'Obey' on it they can't have." in response to Larkin Werner’s Steelerbaby store on Cafepress-- implying that only Shepard Fairey can use the word ‘obey' in a work of art or design? Fairey's words and actions don't mesh. Could it be that Shepard Fairey is obeying the advice of his peers?
Note: Shepard Fairey's Obey Giant Art Inc. forced to remove the Steelerbaby merchandise due to the fact that it involved the word ‘obey’ and the phrase ‘Obey Steelerbaby’. However, Fairey apparently lifted the cease-and-desist order after bloggers and the media picked up on the story.
Fairey goes on to suggest that the AP can’t “have it both ways”-- in other words, Fairey suggests that the AP should not be able to photograph artwork and art exhibits while at the same time defending their photographs when artists use them as he did with his Obama posters. Fairey fails to grasp the fact that under current law media sources, such as the AP, can take said photographs. Fairey also fails to mention that, unlike him concerning aspects of his artwork, the AP gives credit to artists when they photograph artwork and art exhibits. The point-- Fairey needs to realize that people don’t necessarily change laws by breaking them or by making a mockery of current law.
There is a need to keep things in perspective-- Shepard Fairey is not some wide eyed teen-- he is a man inching ever-closer to 40 years of age who obviously knows how to use the law in his favor when individuals infringe upon his artwork. If his current position on “fair use” is honest he could have went about it differently prior to infringing on the copyright of the AP. I don’t think current copyright law will be changed when individuals, such as Shepard Fairey, prove that “fair use” should be limited in order to protect the rights of copyright owners.
That said, if Shepard Fairey and Anthony Falzone of the Fair Use Project desire to extend the interpretation of “fair use” to the point that copyright can be bypassed for all purposes they will find that the majority of the art community-- which they are obviously trying to gain support from-- will not support them. After all, one does not have to look back too far in order to see how artists come together in support of strong copyright.
I assume that Fairey does not remember the number of artists and art organizations that stood against the orphan works legislation in 2008-- which, if passed, would have made it harder for artists, photographers, and other creatives to defend the rights to their work in court. The legislation would have benefited copyright infringers-- which is why so many artists raised their voice against it.
Note: If the 2008 orphan works legislation had passed it would have removed some of the court awarded damages that discourage copyright infringers in the first place. It should be mentioned that Brad Holland , a notable illustrator, was one of the leading figures in the fight against the 2008 orphan works legislation.
As the saying goes, pick your battles. If the Associated Press loses to Shepard Fairey & Obey Giant Art Inc. it will set a legal precedent that will greatly harm artists who desire to uphold their copyright in court when individuals and companies, such as Obey Giant Art Inc., infringe upon their rights. If Shepard Fairey and his company, Obey Giant Art Inc., can do it other companies will have a better chance of doing it-- to fellow artists... to you.
A win for Shepard Fairey and his company, Obey Giant Art Inc., will be a loss for the art community-- it will be a loss for the majority of artists who enjoy the protection that copyright offers, a loss for art dealers who work very hard to establish a market for the artists they represent, and a loss to art collectors and other clients who desire-- and expect-- unique works of art.
Needless to say, I have responded to Shepard Fairey in the past and will continue to respond as long as he attempts to distract the public-- specifically the art community-- from what I assume are his true intentions. One should question the artist who says to “question everything” when the contradictions and hypocrisy of his words and actions are so apparent.
The fact that Shepard Fairey obviously feels that he can dupe the public-- specifically the art community-- is a sign of brutal arrogance in my opinion. He must be called out for it.
Note: A response from the AP-- Paul Colford, Director of Media Relations for The Associated Press, has released the following statement in response to Shepard Fairey and Anthony Falzone:
“The Associated Press is still in the process of reviewing Mr. Fairey's response to its Counterclaims, but it is very revealing that rather than present any evidence to justify his own obvious misappropriation of the AP's copyrighted work, he instead focuses on making collateral attacks on the AP, one of the oldest and largest news organizations in the world, regarding standard newsgathering activities. Even more disappointing is the fact that Mr. Fairey appears to have deliberately omitted from his filing information regarding the newsgathering context in which the various images were generated and in which they are used. We note that Mr. Fairey admits that he engaged in the hypocritical conduct discussed in the AP's Counterclaims, including using the work of others without obtaining a license while at the same time threatening others for using his own works.”
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


Anonymous said...

I noticed the first comment on Huffington was made at 8:50 PM on the 16th. All of the comments were pro Shepard Fairey up until 1:45AM on the 17th, today. I know that I mentioned Baxter Orr early on and the Huffington moderator did not accept my comment. I went back to the article at Huffington after reading your article. My comment is still not up and there are no pending comments right now. But as of 9:39am today the moderator has allowed a balance of comments. Looks like you put the hurt on Huffington again! Thanks for posting this on Twitter! For a liberal news source Huffington is keen on censorship!!!

Wallis said...

The AP is a corporation. So is Obey Giant Art Inc.. You are right in saying that people should remember that. In this case one corp, the AP, is upholding copyright. The other, Obey Giant Art Inc., is saying that it should be ok for companies to use copyrighted work without permission, credit, or compensation for profit.

Fairey just lost this case. He admits that he willfully infringed on the copyright of the AP and that he violates the law because he does not agree with copyright law. This is going to hurt him big time in court. Wish he would get off the free culture bent because anyone who knows his career knows that he sends cease and desist letters out like candy.

M said...

It is laughable that Shepard Fairey is using the doctrine of unclean hands as a distraction. You would need an entire bar of soap to clean the dirt off of Shepard's hands. He is always passing something off as his own. I do know one photographer who has Shepard under his thumb though. Shepard does what he says because he has so much dirt on him.