Shepherd Fairey Strikes Back, Counter Sues the Associated Press

Was the Iconic Shepherd Fairey Obama Hope Image Taken by Freelance Photographer Mannie Garcia?Last week I reported on the continuing controversy regarding Shepherd Fairey’s iconic image of President Barack Obama. The Associated Press had declared copyright over the image that Fairey used to make his HOPE image and now in a pre-emptive strike, Fairey has filed a lawsuit seeking to legally have his art declared as fair use.

From the NY Times:

“Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, including Anthony T. Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a law lecturer at Stanford University, contend in the suit that Mr. Fairey used the photograph only as a reference and transformed it into a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message” from that of the shot Mr. Garcia took.

The suit asks the judge to declare that Mr. Fairey’s work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law, which allow limited use of copyrighted materials for purposes like criticism or comment.

“Fairey did not do anything wrong,” said Julie A. Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project and another of Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, in a statement on Monday. “He should not have to put up with misguided threats from The A.P.” Paul Colford, a spokesman for The A.P., said on Monday that the agency was “disappointed by the surprise filing by Shepard Fairey and his company and by Mr. Fairey’s failure to recognize the rights of photographers in their works.” “

It will be interesting to watch how the courts rule on this one. Still in question as well is whether or not the A.P. even actually own copyright on the original image given that photographer Mannie Garcia took the image without any contract with A.P. and is not an employee or even a freelancer for A.P.

The Associated Press Says That They Own Famous and Iconic Shepherd Fairey Obama Image, Photographer Mannie Garcia Says, “Not So Fast”

Was the Iconic Shepherd Fairey Obama Hope Image Taken by Freelance Photographer Mannie Garcia?

The Associated Press is out this morning claiming copyright ownership to what will certainly be considered one of the most famous and important images of this century.

The image in question was also one of the most used images in the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign and also now sits in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The image was seen all over the United States, from graffiti in San Francisco to dorm rooms in Iowa. And apparently now the Associated Press has decided it wants to muscle in on a little of the ca-ching going on.

From CNN:

““The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission,” the AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement released Wednesday. “AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey’s attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution.”

Anthony Falzone, Fairey’s attorney, says fair use protects his client’s rights from using the photograph as a basis for his image. The concept of fair use allows breaches of copyright law based on the degree to which the original image is used, among other factors.

Fairey, a Los Angeles street artist, has said he found the image online and created his now-famous depiction in early 2008. He says he has not profited at all from the work, which he donated to the Obama campaign.”

Fairey is claiming fair use rights, but the bigger question really is does the Associated Press even *own* this image at all. If it turns out that they do not, they may come out looking like even more like the idiots that they were painted out as a while back when they decided that they wanted to start going after bloggers for quoting their stories.

Both Shepherd Fairey and the photographer who took the original image, Mannie Garcia, agree that the image was originally taken by Garcia. And now Garcia is saying that he owns copyright on the image not the Associated Press. It also seems that Garcia is a really cool guy and while wanting to be recognized as the original photographer, he isn’t trying to milk this thing for all it’s worth personally like your friends over at AP.

In an interview over at Photo Business Forum, in fact, Garcia has said that the majority of any money due him from this photo at all he’d like to see go to charity.

“Now, monies – monies that might be made by me signing my photograph. I am concerned, that the image out there – I would like very much to figure out a way that my signature on a photograph that I made of then Senator now President Obama, that maybe the monies = most of it – could be donated to the American Red Cross, children’s cancer research, and women’s breast cancer research. This is not about me making money off this, it’s about recognition. I made the most iconic image of our time, and I’d like it to make a difference, not make me money. I’m a blue collar photographer – I am out there on the grind every day. I spend more energy looking for work than doing work. I just want Shepard Fairey to say “alright, you’re the guy. Thank you.””

In terms of the APs claim of ownership of the image, Garcia states that he was not a staffer for the AP when he took it, that he wasn’t even an AP freelancer, but rather a temporary hire with no contract and that the ownership of the disputed image belongs to him.

And I think he just may be right on this. Without a contract with him signing over his rights to his photos to AP, as far as I’m aware Garcia ought to own the rights to his work.

Now there are a lot of ways this might unfold. It might be that it doesn’t matter if the AP or Garcia took the original image, that it’s use might be considered fair use. I’m not an attorney, but I think there is a real case to be made here.

It might also turn out that AP has no rights to the image. They have no contract with Garcia and sans contract any ownership of the image likely would go to him.

Personally I think it’s very unlikely that the AP will get control over this very popular image. Which means that they may end up looking like money grubbing jerks yet again if/when they lose. Even if they win, enough people are probably impressed with the way that Fairey gave all of the money made on the image to the Obama campaign that they’ll still end up looking bad trying to squeeze him.

If the AP were smart, I’d think that they’d be better off right now from the start agreeing that no money would go to them if they do have any coming, and that instead any money raised would go to charity and Garcia. Garcia could of course also choose to give his portion largely to charity as well if they recovered any.

It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.