Since this *IS* is design blog, I think we would be remiss not to touch on the recent lawsuit brought against Shepard Fairey by the Associated Press. For those of you who aren't familiar with the case, the AP is claiming that Fairey violated copywrite law when he referenced a photograph taken by Mannie Garcia (a freelance photographer for the AP) to create his now famous Obama poster. Fairey has since filed countersuit against the AP, saying that there was no violation because he dramatically changed the appearance of the image. Garcia himself seems pleased that the image was used, and has no problem with not being credited. The fair trade argument has been debated and debated and debated ad naseum on blogs over the past month. Even Milton Glaser has chimed in! I've found that a lot of commentary on the subject amounts to either mudslinging by dissidents or hero-worship by fans, so I think the subject deserves some considerate and open-minded debate by designers. After all, this is an ethical middleground that designers and artists deal with frequently.
Last week, I visited the Fairey retrospective, Suppy and Demand, that is now showing at the ICA, and had my own mixed feelings about the show. I was impressed by much of the work—the processes and layering Fairey used elevated many of the pieces to the level of fine art. For example, the piece above references a travel poster of the geyser from Yellowstone National Park, but Fairey reappropriates it to form a social commentary on the war in Iraq. The poster now on exhibit at the ICA is highly textured and clearly labored over— it is truly impressive to see in person. Beyond that, it makes a statement that is clearly the artist's own. Here, my instincts say "fair game."
If this is the case, does it matter that it was not immediately obvious Mannie Garcia was the source for the Obama poster? And although Garcia seems okay with the fact that his work was not credited, would our opinion be different if the photographer himself was suing, rather than the AP? For me, the answer is yes. Incidentally, but perhaps pertinent to the argument, Fairey himself balked at the reappropriation of his Obey Giant image by Baxter Orr in 2008, issuing a cease and desist against the latter for a negative parody based on his image (above).
In my mind, I keep going back to the case brought against Jeff Koons not so long ago for copywrite infringement. Design Observer had a very thoughtful write-up on the lawsuit that is well worth the read. In summary, a relatively unknown photographer, Art Rogers, sued the very famous Koons for making a sculpture based on his above image of a string of puppies— and won. To me, it seems obvious that Koons made extraordinary alterations to the image, not to mention the change in media. But should Rogers still have been credited? He work may be somewhat less respected in the fine art world, but should it not still be protected? At the same time, where do we draw the line? Clearly, artistic licence and freedom of speech are also at stake.
There is almost too much to be said on the subject to fit in one blog post! Sound off in the comment section to give your point of view. ••••