Blog: Is Obama poster a ripoff of AP photo, or fair use?
A legal dispute over a celebrated poster showing President Obama goes to the heart of a very modern debate over what is “fair use” of images readily available on the Internet.
Artist Shepard Fairey developed a widely used poster of Obama based on what most agree was a 2006 photo taken at the National Press Club by an Associated Press freelance photographer, showing Obama sitting next to actor George Clooney. Fairey says he found the image in a Google search. Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc., owned by the artist and his wife, Amanda, sued the AP on Feb. 9 in federal district court in New York, asking the court to protect him from copyright claims raised by the news organization.
The dispute revolves around a complex part of copyright law called “fair use,” and whether Fairey’s artistic work was “derivative” or “transformative.” If it’s the former, a court might find that he owes money to the AP (which asserts that it owns the press club photo) or to the freelancer. If it’s the latter, a court might find that the image and the artist are entitled to an exception under copyright law.
The two opposing positions can be summed up as:
In some ways, the dispute echoes an issue raised in the 1960s by artistic works produced by Pop Era artist Andy Warhol that were based on the iconic Campbell’s Soup red-and-white can — but no lawsuit was filed in that instance.