Today the Associated Press threatened to sue Fairey. "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. "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." You can read story here.
As someone who has criticized both Fairey and the Copyright monster (which does little for artists but tons for corporations), I have mixed feelings about this. Here are some points I want to share:
- Fairey rarely credits his sources, which is problematic. You can read an earlier post by Josh MacPhee, here. In the past, those who have critiqued this did not have the legal nor financial means to sue him. Now he may be getting sued by the big guys. This is something he could have avoided if he were to have credited his sources. He has a team working with him, it's not impossible, its the right thing to do.
- Copyright laws work in the favor of the corporate elite. So what is happening to Fairey is bound to affect us all as artists, in negative ways. My friend Gan Golan said it best, "If Fairey gets sued by AP it could set a precedent that is harmful for all artists who use photographic imagery that appear news media. It is bad for parody artists and satirists. It is bad for all artists who re-appropriate and reinterpret imagery of any kind.
- Fairey loves to rip off the art of people who are part of the counter culture, many times they are people of color, or groups who have fought for social justice, or radicals who have fought against their own countries. In my opinion, this is commodification. The fact that he feels entitled to do this points at his white privilege and white entitlement. When you rip off Cuban artists, Chicano artists, even groups like the Black Panthers - and you fail to give credit - that to me is an excercise of white privilege. Now, the person who took the original photograph is a Latino, and from his commentary, it sounds like he is a working class Latino.
- The original photographer, Mannie Garcia, said this. "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." See full story
- The whole monster that is copyright infrigement works in favor of corporate America. But let's be clear that this is not a case of Corporate America vs. Street Artist. Fairey regularly consults for corporations, and he has done some campaigns in which he outright steals revolutionary imagery to use for capitalist agenda's. So again, this is about an artist who loves to with corporations. See this really sad example.
- Fairey threatened to sue Baxtor Orr for parodying his work - which is baffling to me
- And finally, the folks repping Fairey in his legal case are people I align with. "He's hired Anothony Falzone, a lawyer and executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University. Falzone is also the heir apparent to Lawrence Lessig, the famed Stanford copyright law professor and founder of Creative Commons, the movement that encourages creators to modify copyright terms in order to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in the commons." I am a MAJOR proponent of Creative Commons, in fact, the new book I worked on with Josh MacPhee, Reproduce & Revolt, is licensed under Creative Commons, and it includes work by Fairey himself.
So these are my thoughts...some contradictory yes, but it's important to see this from the perspective of a woman of color, artist, activist, propagandist, agitator... my opinion is in formation, and I'm open to hearing other's perspective on this.