- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

It may not be the face that launched a thousand ships, but it may launch a thousand court appearances.

The “Hope” portrait of President Obama, which was an icon of his 2008 campaign, is now a symbol of copyright scuffles, artistic license and political dissent.

The Associated Press on Wednesday countersued Shepard Fairey, the canny street artist who created the distinctive crimson and blue image using an original AP photo of Mr. Obama taken two years earlier.

The AP is answering a suit Mr. Fairey filed against the wire service in February, claiming the popular “Hope” posters, T-shirts and buttons - which generated a reported $400,000 - were protected by “fair-use exception” to the law, which allows limited use of copyright materials for criticism or comment. The poster already has been placed in the National Portrait Gallery.

The AP accused the Los Angeles-based artist of “blatant copying” and hypocrisy, and is playing some arty hardball of its own.

“News photography is an art form that requires skill, artistic judgment, dedication, countless hours of preparation and imagination,” said the 61-page document filed in federal court in New York.

“I am disappointed the Associated Press is persisting in its misguided accusations of copyright infringement,” Mr. Fairey said.

He maintains his work is protected by fair use, that he acknowledged AP as the image’s source, and that the funds he made were donated to charities.

“I am even more disappointed the AP is now trying to distort the facts surrounding my work. They suggest my purpose in creating the poster was to merchandise it and make money. It wasn’t. My entire purpose in creating the poster was to support Obama and help get him elected,” Mr. Fairey said.

Some local police want a word with him, however.

Mr. Fairey pleaded not guilty in a Boston district court Wednesday to 39 counts of felony vandalism for “illegally posting” his artwork around the city - related, he said, to his belief that public space should contain more than “commercial advertising.”

The AP suit, meanwhile, asserts Mr. Fairey misappropriated the photo without providing notice, credit or compensation. The image - derived from a Google version of the original - retained “the heart and essence of the AP photo, including but not limited to its patriotic theme,” the court documents said.

“This lawsuit is about protecting the content that the Associated Press and its journalists produce every day, with creativity, at great cost and often at great risk,” said AP President Tom Curley. “The journalism that AP and other organizations produce is vital to democracy. To continue to provide it, news organizations must protect their intellectual property rights as vigorously as they have historically fought to protect the First Amendment.”

The “Hope” image, the suit said, “is part and parcel of [Mr. Fairey’s] willful practice of ignoring the property rights of others for his own commercial advancement,” and that the practice “contrasts dramatically with his aggressive and hypocritical enforcement against others of his own intellectual property rights.”

But Mr. Fairey, 38, is a hero in artistic circles.

“The content of Fairey’s work is a call to action about hierarchies and abuses of power, politics and the commodification of culture,” said Pedro Alonzo, who is curating a 250-item exhibit of the artist’s work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

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