Should Shepard Fairey Be Sued for his Obama Poster?

Obama HOPE poster by Shepard Fairey

By now you should have heard about the fiasco surrounding Shepard Fairey’s Obama HOPE poster. It’s been all over the national media and every designer should pay close attention to it. It raises a lot of questions about what is considered fair use in the art world. Shepard’s well known for skirting around copyright infringement (although I don’t know all the nitty gritty details), but has he gone too far? He admitted to finding the image of Barack Obama on Google Images, something I know a lot of designers do for reference on a particular project.

I think it’s safe to assume most designers feel that if they change the image enough, they’re free from copyright infringement. Is that true?

So what do you think about the Obama poster? Clearly, he used the image as reference, but he did his own take on it. It’s a huge target for AP, the owners of the photo, because not only is it from the world famous street artist Shepard Fairey (most known for his Obey campaign) but it’s the freakin President! There are lots of people using the President’s likeness to make money or gain exposure for themselves. I’ve seen countless vector freebies of Obama flying around the web. Urban Outfitters is selling skate decks that we designed using Barack’s likeness amidst an imaginative illustration.

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The purpose of this post is to get people talking. Let’s open up a dialogue about this. Is AP just going for a cash grab? Is Shepard Fairey wrongfully using the image for his own benefit? This is a serious issue that all designers should be talking about.

About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.

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