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Fairey Avoids Prison But Must Pay $25,000 Over Obama “Hope” Image

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Obama Hope by JE Theriot on Flickr

Image by JE Theriot on Flickr

Shepard Fairey, the street artist behind the famous Obama “Hope” image from the 2008 presidential campaign, has been sentenced to two years’ probation, 300 hours of community service, and a $25,000 fine for criminal contempt.

The dispute originally arose between the Fairey and the Associated Press, which claimed the artist has misappropriated one of its photos. Fairey had used an AP photographer’s photograph to create the “Hope” 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, and as we discussed here at LegalZoom in January 2011, the AP and Fairey reached an agreement to settle the case.

But then came federal charges for Fairey; U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote in a statement 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.”

Fairey plead guilty to a federal charge of criminal contempt over the destruction and concealing of evidence. As we wrote in February of this year:

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.”

Fairey admitted his guilt and accepted responsibility for his actions, and also noted that he “believed, and still believe, that I had a very strong Fair Use case, which I could have prevailed.” His embarrassment and fear led him to alter the evidence, he said.

The AP has released a statement expressing its satisfaction that the issue has been resolved: “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.”

And as for Fairey, who is 42 years old, married with two small children, and has been diagnosed with an “advanced case of diabetes,” according to the Los Angeles Times, he is also ready to move on from this episode, which was “financially and psychologically costly to myself and my family, but also helped to obscure what I was fighting for in the first place–the ability of artists everywhere to be inspired and freely create art without reprisal.”

What do you think of the resolution of this case? Did Fairey receive a fair sentence?

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September 12th, 2012 at 12:03 pm