Last January, we discussed the agreement reached by the Associated Press and artist Shepard Fairey over the President Barack Obama “Hope” image, but the copyright case is back in the news again — this time because the artist has plead guilty to a federal charge of criminal contempt over the destruction and concealing of evidence.
In a released statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote that Fairey “went to extreme lengths to obtain an unfair and illegal advantage in his civil litigation [against the AP], creating fake documents and destroying others in an effort to subvert the civil discovery process.”
The original case involved Fairey’s use of an AP photographer’s photograph to create the iconic image of then presidential candidate and now President Barack Obama in red, white, and blue with the word “hope” across the bottom; the artist had petitioned a federal court to declare his use of the photograph as “fair” and therefore not copyright infringement.
Federal prosecutors say that in Fairey’s original complaint, however, he mistakenly identified the photograph he used and then attempted to conceal that mistake by both creating new evidence and destroying other evidence that would have shown he knew which AP photo had been used. The two photographs in question were reportedly taken at the same event, however.
The U.S. Attorney also wrote that Fairey “concealed his destruction of documents; concealed his manufacture of fake documents; suggested to an employee that a back-dated document retention policy be created to justify why documents had been deleted; and coached a witness in the civil case to give an account that [he] knew to be untrue.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Fairey admitted his mistake about the photograph he used in his artwork as well as the ensuing cover-up in 2009, which brought about the criminal investigation.
Fairey’s guilty plea means that he will now face a possible six-month prison sentence and $5,000 fine, which is appropriate according to Bharara as “[t]he justice system – civil and criminal – depends on the integrity of lawyers and non-lawyers alike to follow the rules. Those who break the rules risk sanctions, including, in certain cases, criminal prosecution.”
What do you think? Should Shepard have to OBEY and pay a GIANT fine? Serve jail time? Or should he get a pass for creating one of the most iconic images ever used in a presidential campaign?