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Shepard Fairey: OBEY my lawyers

Posted by Dan Wasserman  February 6, 2009 01:16 PM

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pols_feature18.jpgWhat do you do if you're a street artist turned marketing phenom who uses other people's images when someone uses one of your designs? If you're Shepard Fairey, apparently, you call your lawyers.

Fairey, of Obama HOPE poster fame, is defending himself against charges he infringed on an Associated Press copyrighted photo in making the poster. He's also been criticized by artists for using others' work without attribution (see background here and here). His lawyers claim in the AP case that he is protected by fair use provisions of the copyright law.

It turns out, however, that the activist art appropriator is a wee bit more sensitive when it is his images that are being "repurposed." An Austin, Texas, artist named Baxter Orr made a parody of Fairey's Andre the Giant design, adorning it with a SARS mask and the title "Protect Yourself." Last April, Fairey mobilized his legal team to send Orr a cease and desist order threatening legal action against him.

The Austin Chronicle has the details. They quote Orr:

"It's ridiculous for someone who built their empire on appropriating other people's images," he said. "Obey Giant has become like Tide and Coca-Cola."
A website called AnimalNewYork has posted what it says are excerpts of the cease and desist letter.

(Thanks to Out of Line commenter Max for the heads-up.)

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Dan Wasserman has been cartooning for the Globe editorial page since 1985. He has published two collections of drawings, "We've Been Framed" (Faber & Faber, 1987) and "Paper Cuts" (Ivan R. Dee, 1995). His cartoons are widely reprinted and are syndicated internationally by Tribune Media Services. He draws more quickly than he types.