You might know Shepard Fairey. If you don’t, you probably do or at least haven’t realized yet. The Los Angeles man behind Obey and one of the stars in street artist Banksy’s mockumentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” has risen to fame in the contemporary art world, partly because he created one of the most recognizable pieces of political art in the 21st century: the Obama “Hope” poster – a work that the Obama campaign adopted in 2008 as their Mona Lisa.
The piece, which reflects red, white and blue flares onto the then-Senator’s face, is already encased in history, hanging in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. However, there’s a bit of a problem with Faireys’ ‘Hope’: the picture of Obama was taken from the Associated Press; photographer Mannie Garcia’s shot from the National Press Club, in particular.
And the AP was not so happy with the commercial success of Fairey’s creation, thus leading to a copyright lawsuit in 2009. To counter that, the artist sued the AP for any inclination that he stole the picture and the resulting defamation that would come with that. In the end, Fairey ended up paying $1.6 million, mostly out of his own wallet, in damages to the AP.
But the conflict between the two took another turn when Fairey was accused of destroying and falsifying documents that proved he had intentionally taken the picture from the AP. In Downtown Manhattan on Friday, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge based on that accusation, saying it was the worst thing he ever did in his life
, and was handed
three hundred hours of community service, two and a half years of probation and a $2,500 fine.
Looks like ‘Hope’ comes with a hefty price.
When the debate began a few years back, the trial immediately became a heated battle
between what are the technical boundaries of ‘art’ and how much can one copy from another’s work. Fairey argued that his ‘Hope’ poster was an adaptation of the AP’s photograph and that most works of art are copied from another. Obviously, the AP didn’t see eye to eye with Fairey.
But the sentencing yesterday was a gesture of sympathy from Manhattan Federal Court Magistrate Judge Frank Maas. According to Maas, the famous street artist’s donations to charitable organizations and his status as a diabetic landed him the get-out-of-jail-free card. Despite the artist’s constant apologies (he said he was “deeply ashamed and remorseful of his acts” in the courtroom), the prosecutors demanded he received at least six months of jail time.
Now that the creative controversy is at bay, the more important question is, “Is twelve and a half days worth of community service worse than six months in prison?”