I heard a great podcast yesterday on NPR about the iconic Obama poster (seen above). The poster is done by a fascinating artist named Shepherd Fairey. It’s a little known fact that Fairey is also responsible for the Andre The Giant “OBEY” sketches that i remember from the 90’s. He really gets around.
In this case, Fairey took a photo he found on Google and then altered the neck, the eyes and the colors (and cropped out George Clooney) to make a poster than came to symbolize the campaign. Shepherd always claimed that he made the poster from an Associated Press photo and about a month ago, it was finally determined which photo he used and who the photographer was. It was a photo of Obama sitting at a press event in Darfur with George Clooney.
All this would be nice and peachy except that because the photo was an AP photo, the AP came to Fairey and threatened to sue if he didn’t dish out a percentage of revenue he made from the poster. Fairey acknowledged that he’s willing to pay the standard license fee and attribute the photo to the original photographer but he won’t be bullied into paying. So, instead he sued the AP in an attempt to discourage companies from punishing artists for creating art.
While his argument stands on fair use, to me the real issue is about people making derivative works. It’s the 21st century and lots of people take lots of images and transforming them into art. If each is penalized into paying a bounty for the original source we’re limiting and hurting society.
In this day and age, users are both consumers and creators of content. So many YouTube videos have copyrighted works in them. Last week there was a huge fiasco around Facebook’s Terms of Service when they claimed they owned all user uploaded material. Thankfully, they backed off. But the backlash from the users illustrates that ownership of property, attribution, and sharing is really important to the web.
If anything this just leads me more and more into believing in Creative Commons. It’s truly the only mechanism that let’s people properly manage their rights