Fair Use Project helps artist sue AP

Hope poster

The photograph of Barack Obama, left, was taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia and used as the basis of a poster, right, by artist Shepard Fairey.

The artist who created one of the best-known images from Barack Obama's presidential campaign is suing The Associated Press with the help of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School.

The AP accused the artist, Shepard Fairey, of copyright infringement last week. The news cooperative said Fairey wrongly used an AP photograph as the basis of his "Obama Hope" poster—an image showing the candidate looking up and to his left, his face shaded in red, white and blue. The word "hope" crosses his chest in capital letters.

Fairey has acknowledged basing his work on the photograph, taken for the AP in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia.

The AP has not taken legal action against Fairey, but the artist said he's been threatened with a lawsuit.

Fairey's lawsuit, filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in New York by the Fair Use Project and the San Francisco law firm Durie Tangri Lemley Roberts & Kent, seeks a declaration that the artist did not infringe AP's copyrights in creating the poster and other related works. The lawsuit also requests an injunction against further assertion of copyrights by the AP against Fairey or anyone else who displays his work.

"Fairey did not do anything wrong," said Julie Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project. "He should not have to put up with misguided threats from the AP."

In a statement posted on the AP's website, spokesman Paul Colford said the news organization is "disappointed by the surprise filing" and Fairey's "failure to recognize the rights of photographers in their works."

Colford said the AP was in settlement talks with Fairey's lawyers last week, but his lawyers broke off contact over the weekend.

"There should be no doubt about the legality of Fairey's work," said Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project and lecturer at the Stanford Law School, who is leading Fairey's legal team. "He used the photograph for a purpose entirely different than the original, and transformed it dramatically. The original photograph is a literal depiction of Obama, whereas Fairey's poster creates powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message that has no analogue in the original photograph."