Civil Liberties

Should Shephard Fairey Have Gone to Jail For Lying About Stealing Images?


If federal prosecutors had gotten their way, the creator of the iconic Obama 2008 "Hope" poster, Shepard Fairey, would be in jail. Why? Because Fairey lied, dissembled, and fabricated documents during a civil lawsuit over whether he ripped off the Associated Press in creating his most famous image.

As it turned out, Fairey got let off with probation.

From The Smoking Gun:

Fairey…has admitted destroying electronic records and creating fake documents in an effort to thwart a copyright lawsuit brought by the Associated Press, which contended that Fairey had based the "Hope" image on a photo taken by an AP lensman.

[Proscutor David] Levy stated that Fairey reaped significant reputational and financial benefits from the Obama "Hope" image, which was created in early-2008. The prosecutor specifically cited the escalating combined profits of three Fairey companies, which grossed $2.93 million in 2007, $4.59 million in 2008, and $6.08 million in 2009.

The feds also wanted Fairey hit with as much as a $3.2 million fine; instead, he got dinged with a $25,000 fine. Howzeboutdat? Crime does pay!

How did Fairey come up with the image?

Fairey was finishing up the "Hope" poster "while he was waiting for his wife to deliver their second child," noted [an Obama campaign spokesman]. Amanda Fairey, the artist's spouse, wrote Maas that she "feared that making the poster would not be good for Shepard's career." But, she added, her husband "looked me in the eye and said to me that the reason he would be doing this was for our daughter's future, not his career."

More here.

I don't think Fairey should have been sent to jail for building off the AP's image; in fact, I don't think he should have been spent a day in court defending a clearly transformed image.

By the same token, once he was caught in the mess, he shouldn't have lied and cheated as a means of avoiding answering questions about his artistic process. That's particularly true given his legitimate interest in pushing "fair use" exceptions to accepted copyright law.

As much as I've enjoyed a lot of Fairey's productions over the years, he's the worst kind of political thinker and fake subversive (consider his sad-sack appeal to Obama on the part of Occupy Wall Street types). I hope he's more successful in pushing for broader definitions of fair use under the stupid copyright regime, but his behavior in this case has made him a less-persuasive spokesman on the matter.

Reason on copyright here.