Intellectual Property

Shepard Fairey: Beyond Hope


Will Wilkinson wants Shepard Fairey to triumph in his current copyright fight over the photo at the basis of his now sadly iconic Obama "Hope" image, but still couldn't help but notice that the artist

went from  absurdist anarchist vandalism, to a lucrative online business uncreatively ripping off other people's designs and selling them as his own, to creating  powerful and effective political propaganda to help arm a comformist virtuoso of establishment institutions with nuclear weapons. From small-scale guerrilla street art to a running dog of the American political establishment in no time flat. How does this happen?….

If arts scenes, blogs, web video, social networking etc. are largely coopted into producing propaganda for major political parties, then widening access to the means of symbolic production will have failed pathetically to achieve its liberatory potential. In fact, it is all the more insidious when well-equipped citizens use their own time, creativity, and resources simply to consolidate the stultifying terms of Americans politics–to voluntarily join the existing powers in manufacturing consent.

NEXT: The Day the Pizza Died

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “liberatory potentional”?

    What? And I have no idea what the final sentence of the quote means. Is it English?

  2. How’d things work out for the guys who did the Mao,Che and Stalin images?

  3. Yeah, what he said.

  4. He certainly expected payment when we used his work for an ad campaign. His BLK/MRKT Communications is quite the capitalist enterprise. Don’t see why AP shouldn’t expect the same courtesy.

  5. In completely unrelated news:

    Tell me that headline didn’t make you do a double-take.

  6. The Che guy has never seen a dime from any of those images. Speaking of communist icons, the guy designed the AK-47 has a decent pension but never got wealthy off the design of the gun either.

  7. “In fact, it is all the more insidious when well-equipped citizens use their own time, creativity, and resources simply to consolidate the stultifying terms of Americans politics-to voluntarily join the existing powers in manufacturing consent.”

    That’s one neat way of summing up the entire Obamania.

    I don’t care how much Obama spins the “Hope, Change and all that noise” wheel or how eloquent he might be; he is a politician and politicians are to me what Klingons are to Captain Kirk: “Don’t believe them. Don’t trust them … Let them die!”

  8. It flies in the face of the very essence of libertarianism to decry someone for putting their free time to use making something you find pathetic and stultifying. The people who made the Obama art, the obama youtube videos, etc etc had every right to do what they did and hopefully received the rewards they were hoping for, whether those were money, pride, social esteem or something that others of us don’t entirely understand.

    And to think that it’s all about Obama really misses the point. A lot of the people who were creating this stuff were reflecting dreams, desires, hopes that were only tangentially related to Obama, and many of them might have found meaning in what they were doing that can carry on independent of what Obama does as president. If you’re going to criticize the Obama people, criticize the way that they vote, which is an individual contribution to a collective enterprise and is an indirect use of force, not the way they create.

  9. I trust McCain Elios’ politician, when he says, “Generational Theft” and “…we were going to have change, that change meant we work together.” A hippie after my own heart.

  10. The Obama propaganda is nausea inducing.

    That said, it’s ridiculous for AP to try to claim copyright infringement cause someone used a photo as a basis for a painting.

    Lots of art is based on random images seen elsewhere. It’d be really freaking stultifying to have to pay license fees every time you want to use an image as inspiration.

  11. Mickey Rourke is the only artist who can’t be co-opted.

  12. Jorgen-

    Unless we’re talking about some bizzaro variation of libertarianism where criticism = coercion, I fail to see how expressing disgust with Obamamania flies in the face of libertarianism.

  13. Kerry might want to tell her boyfriend that using 10-point-words may make one sound pretentious, but not necessarily intelligent.

    Brevity, after all, is the soul of wit…

  14. There was a short blurb in the feedback section of Mad Magazine, in one of the issues after the “Hopeless” poster, with Fairey praising Mad for bringing his art into the pop-culture mainstream.

    My wife threw the issue away, without even using it to wrap fish.

  15. a comformist virtuoso of establishment institutions…

    I have read that three or four times now and I still don’t know what it means.

  16. comformist = conformist

  17. Regarding the essay that shows how Fairey lifts images, I’d give him credit for a few, but I agree with the author for the most part – he’s mostly a thief.

  18. It’s a crappy poster that looks like totalitarian iconography, but the AP’s case is stupid. A painting of a photograph is not the photograph, and no one is likely to mistake it as such or use it in place of the photo.

  19. Yo, fuck Shepard Fairey. Good to see someone in the MSM call him out on his shit.

  20. “Jorgen-

    Unless we’re talking about some bizzaro variation of libertarianism where criticism = coercion, I fail to see how expressing disgust with Obamamania flies in the face of libertarianism.”

    Obviously anyone can criticize whatever they want, but the vocabulary will uses, calling the use of creativity for the major parties “insidious” and claiming that private citizens are “to voluntarily join[ing] the existing powers in manufacturing consent” seems a little different to me than just calling this stuff tacky and pitiful. He uses vocabulary that suggests that some schmoe with photoshop who made a tee shirt design is coopting our minds, forcing conformity and stultifying our discourse; if we can be the passive victims of someone else’s art then free speech doesn’t make a lot of sense. My problem with what Will wrote is that he’s giving no respect to the producers of this stuff as free actors and to the consumers of this stuff. And the idea that we should be bemoaning the fact that citizen engagement has failed to live up to its “liberatory potential” is just so marxist. If we are evaluating mediums of communication on what the people choose to communicate with them, rather than the freedom to communicate they allow, then we’re not treating people with the respect deserved by free people.

    I might be reading way too much into Will Wilkinson’s absurdly overwrought vocabulary.

  21. Is there a time when art was not used for propaganda? Art’s liberatory potential seems largely a modern pretense and propagandic in it’s own way. Most artists today, and throughout history, had to create under the patronage of the moneyed and powerful.

  22. Who cares, the guy makes posters and sells them. You’re hit by “propaganda” from McDonalds and Coke every single day. What a bunch of wankery.

  23. Fairey’s probably in the wrong, as far as copyrights covering derivative works are concerned. See the Jeff Koons ‘String of Puppies” case (Rogers vs. Koons).

    It’s not that anyone would mistake Fairey’s image for the photo, it’s that his image could (and has) become more widespread than the original, therefore potentially impacting the profit from the photo itself.

    Had Fairey used his design as a satire/parody of the original photo, he would be in the clear, but that’s far from the situation.

    But that doesn’t mean that the copyright law itself isn’t garbage. Protecting innovation by stifling innovation in others doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  24. Fuck him. Every time I see that shit it makes me feel like I’m in red square. Intellectual property FTW.

    Dumb sellout writer.

  25. Screw the running dog of Wall Street. Can’t he share?

  26. jorgen, do you just not get it?

    Libertarians are opposed to using the tools of the state. We are all about a vibrant civil culture, definitely including name-calling and withering criticism of the citizenry by each other.

    Calling out this guy (or any other) in the marketplace of ideas isn’t just consistent with libertarianism, it is essential to libertarianism.

  27. Milton Glaser thinks Fairey is in the wrong and so do I.

  28. Great artists steal.

    Shitty artists plagiarize.

  29. Absolutely deplorable.

    Even the Russians did not vote the Bolsheviks into power, but Americans voted B. Hussein Obama into the presidency 🙁

  30. Socialist Realism plagiarism.

  31. Shepard Phoney is nothing other then the Rosie Ruiz of the Graffiti Art-world as the one who arrived in world class record rip off time and embarrassed at his own Finished line for stealing Artists estates and individual work!

    Fairey has practiced being a thief for over 15 years…

    Please review the most recent updates of Shepard Fairey’s Lies and Tampering with Federal Evidence from the perspective of the AP’s legal team, led by Kirkland & Ellis partner Dale Cendali, as well as Associated Press opposition to the resignation of Fairey’s lawyers Anthony Falzone whose law firm has requested resignation from the case in fear of losing his credibility in being attached to Fairey’s case. Falzone’s request was finally granted by the judge who presided over the case.

    Nah Nah Nah
    Hey Hey

  32. hope is a good thing.Suffering is the most powerful teacher of life.Bad times make a good man.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.