Criminal Sanctions for Street Artist in Copyright Dispute

ImageIt is easy to forget that intellectual property laws are not all about obtaining money damages in the event of an infringement. Just ask Shepard Fairey, the famed street artist behind the emblematic “Hope” poster that became the face of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, who was sentenced on Friday September 7th to two years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and fined $25,000 for lying during a copyright dispute with the Associated Press over the famed image.

Mr. Fairey, 42, admitted to having falsified evidence and lying in a counter suit he brought against the Associated Press. The news agency was accusing the street artist of violating their copyrights by using their picture of then-Senator Obama without their consent and modifying it as part of the 2008 “Hope” poster.

Mr. Fairey explained that he had realized that the photos were identical only after he had filed a countersuit. As a consequence he created false documents, deleted electronic documents, and blatantly lied by maintaining that the two photographs were distinct. Mr. Fairey came forward with the truth in February and pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of criminal contempt. He avoided jail time by coming forward with the truth as early as possible, doing so before a government investigation began.

Mr. Fairey is a world-renown street artist, linked to famed artists such as Banksy, with whom he appeared in last year’s “mockumentary” Exit Through the Gift Shop. A retrospective of his work was held at the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston in 2009.

After the sentencing, Garry Pruitt, the president and CEO of Associated Press stated: “all of us at the Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us. We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content.”

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About Gershon Abramoff

Third Year Law School Student at Brooklyn Law School

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