Fair Use or Copyright Infringement? Iconic Obama Poster Sparks Debate

By Pete Salsich III

Whether you view it as an iconic image for a hopeful progressive nation or nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at Soviet-style propaganda, you've almost certainly seen one of the now-famous Obama posters created by artist Shephard Fairey.  (above right)

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press accused Fairey of copyright infringement because the poster was based on a photograph taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia while on assignment for AP.  (above left)

Last week, Fairey countered by filing a declaratory judgment action in the Southern District of New York, claiming that his use of the original photograph is protected by the Fair Use Doctrine.  According to his Complaint (.PDF here), "Fairey used the Garcia Photograph as a visual reference for a highly transformative purpose; Fairey altered the original with new meaning, new expression, and new messages; and Fairey did not create any of the Obama Works for the sake of commercial gain."   

I think he's right.  Fair Use can be a notoriously slippery concept to apply, but in this case I think the transformative nature of Fairey's posters tips the case in his favor.  Moreover, he used only a portion of the original photograph--only as much as necessary to achieve his expressive purpose--and I think it unlikely that the AP could prove Fairey's posters have had a negative impact on the commercial market for the photograph.

In an added wrinkle, apparently the AP's claims of copyright ownership in the photograph are being questioned by Garcia himself.  This looks more like a PR blunder for the AP than anything else, but at least Garcia's work as a photographer is getting noticed along with Fairey's ubiquitous poster.

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
http://iplitigator.huschblackwell.com/admin/trackback/113610
Comments (0) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.







Remember personal info?
Send To A Friend Use this form to send this entry to a friend via email.