Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Creator of iconic Obama portrait arrested"

I've been casually following this story (read the article) for the last few days, and since I've posted some of Shepard Fairey's art (the Obey guy) on here before, I thought I'd take a sec to address it and see how others feel. The basics are that Fairey admitted to using an AP photo to create the Obama piece that you couldn't avoid seeing for the last year or so, and AP has decided now (after the inauguration) to step up and demand compensation. I'm not sure about the legal wranglings about all that-- frankly, that will have to be settled however they settle it. Considering how much money both parties have, I would expect some kind of settlement or agreement.

The thing about the arrest is that Boston police arrested Fairey on charges having to do with graffiti. My attitude toward graffiti is ambivalent- and I make a clear distinction between so-called "street art" (at its basics, more often found in gentrified areas) and graffiti/tagging (including such species as dumbass graffiti and scary gang tagging). The law sees both as vandalism, which, admittedly, it is, and I figure if you get caught, you need to face the consequences, whether or not you feel the charges or the law itself is fair. Social contract and whatnot. But Fairey is a well known commercially popular artist and a public personality strongly associated with street art culture if only for his conceptual influence; clearly they could have arrested him a long time ago, or at any point during his career. Now seems awfully convenient. I don't believe "artists" are above the law, but the timing is way too blatant. Ah, cops. If AP hadn't brought Fairey to national attention, the arrest wouldn't have happened. Meanwhile, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Apparently the Boston PD is too busy to find out and stop all the other crime.

The other issue I think is interesting is that because Obama's campaign and the consequent beatification (it's getting out of hand; the man is a politician and will have to face a reality that is not in good shape), imagery such as "Hope" played a massive role in the face of the campaign. Fairey helped Obama's marketability, and it seems like bad form for AP to be throwing a hissy-fit now. On behalf of the original photographer, I don't know what to say, but if there is any settlement, it should be between the two individuals. Of course, this is not how copyright works.

I like Fairey's stuff. I think kids who are all about Obey are obnoxious, but his prints and designs are good, pop-commercial pieces. I especially like his Joe Strummer prints, (aw hell, I might as well post it here again; I mean, it's pretty fucken sweet) and I'm interested to see how this pans out.


King AdBeck said...

I saw Shepard Fairey on The Colbert Report shortly before this story and he basically said he was making no money off the Obama print, posters, et al. But we live in a litigious society and if there's money to be made, someone is going to sue.

Copyright law needs a major overhaul in my opinion - it has basically been exploited. Collage, altered artwork, and digital sampling are significant (one might even say necessary) in shaping the language of a culture. All art builds on the past.

And, really, where would we be without the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique? That's an album built almost exclusively on samples and impossible to make (legally) today due to copyright clearance. To say nothing of Beck's Odelay or DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, et cetera.

Which is not a defense of Fairey. He knows the law and at that level of popularity, he would be best advised to function within it. Though, I'd say, in this case, the Obama campaign was a bit negligent in appropriating an image with a muddled lineage. (I heard of a similar case where Jeff Smith's Bone character wound up on a record sleeve when a graffitti artist sold it to a band, not telling them the image was not original.) But if you put out an album of sampled material and a lawsuit ensues, the artist is responsible, not the record label. And I'd imagine the same probably applies here.

All that being said, I don't think I'd be too forgiving of somebody spray-painting my domicile or commercial building in the interest of "street art." Again, there are proper ways to go about that. At Fairey's level, he could easily line up legit sites to spray paint. But I guess that wouldn't be as cool, would it?

And you kids get off my lawn!

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