Shepard Fairey Accused of Plagiarism — Again

Soviet posters plagiarized by  Fairey

UPDATE: This week Fairey admitted to lying about which photo was the basis for the Obama poster.

ORIGINAL, 2/5/09: The AP is suing the former RISD student over his now-famous Obama poster:

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Manny Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.

The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees.

As much as we hate pooping on other once-Rhode-Islanders, this appears to be just one of Fairey’s many (typically unattributed) appropriations of others’ work, for profit. This website makes a pretty damning case that swiping others’ work is endemic to Fairey’s art. And an equally strong case that his work has become void of meaning — a purposeless branding of his own name, and the “Obey Posse’s.”

Fairey has developed a successful career through expropriating and recontextualizing the artworks of others, which in and of itself does not make for bad art. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein based his paintings on the world of American comic strips and advertising imagery, but one was always aware that Lichtenstein was taking his images from comic books; that was after all the point, to examine the blas� and artificial in modern American commercial culture. When Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey, a 1961 oil on canvas portrait of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, everyone was cognizant of the artist�s source material – they were in on the joke. By contrast, Fairey simply filches artworks and hopes that no one notices – the joke is on you.

The above image, as described at the above website:

[Left: Meeting – Vladimir Kozlinsky. Linocut. 1919. Kozlinsky’s depiction of workers listening to a revolutionary agitator. Middle top: Fairey’s plagiarized version of Kozlinsky’s linocut. Right: Have You Volunteered? – Dmitry Moor. Famous recruitment poster for the Soviet Red Army. 1920. Middle bottom: Fairey’s plagiarized version of Moor’s Red Army poster.]

29 thoughts on “Shepard Fairey Accused of Plagiarism — Again”

  1. What’s sad and oddly indicative of the current IP climate is that, if Warhol tried to do that today, Campbell Soup Company would prolly sue him.

    Again, leaving “art” out of it, this chafing on our cultural skin has clearly started to fester, and it’s not likely to heal until we rip it open and let it ooze.

  2. Anyone who doesn’t think this scam artist is stealing from other artists needs to read the article below. It outlines in great detail (and photos) no fewer than 14 instances of plagerism by Fairey. Not including the Obama poster. It’s pretty shocking that this guy still has any legitimate standing in the art world.

  3. joe bernstein

    i meant to say repetition above-repetition,repetition,repetition….

  4. joe bernstein

    mickey-brilliant point on the msm
    i’ve noticed the change since the 50’s when the msm had only newspapers,periodicals,and some tv time,they had more meaningful content than the toxic re[ition of phrases and images that turn a scumbag voyeur like nancy grace into some kind of big brother figure
    my take on today’s msm:too much “bandwidth”,too little content of value span is another story
    your sober perspective on shepard fairey’s work sound right to me

  5. joe – thomas kinkade. again, thomas kinkade is an artist who makes me want to vomit, but his whole nauseating capitalistic tactic is so brilliant, it cannot be denied. if i had any shred of belief he knew exactly what his genius business scheme represented conceptually from top to bottom, i would think he was a hero.

    meanwhile: “there is a body of stuff (I won’t call it ‘work’) that is clustering around the idea that elements of the main stream media should be the raw material of another artistic expression. By appropriating/taking/stealing these images and turning them into some other expression, the power of the MSM is somehow reduced.”

    it’s not about reducing the power the MSM, its about tapping it. the msm throws more imagery, audio clips, quotes, visuals, icons, etc (“shit”) out every second than one can even comprehend! the main stream media is not an enemy, necessarily– it’s kind of an inspiration. not unlike a scenic ocean view; it’s a blatant, undeniable part of our existence. as some artists appropriate scenery, other appropriate the MSM. to ignore it, as an artist, would be ignoring a massive part of our reality. in general, what the msm throws out is not filtered or edited, it’s like live streaming into nothingness– the majority of it gets lost. fairey’s appropriation of that one particular obama photo was a way of solidifying it in history, as something more important than what it was intended to be. it’s not a particularly stellar or inspirational photo, but he turned it into an image to be remembered. not to say this is a particularly amazing or incredible thing to do, it’s just a thing. that he happened to do.

  6. joe bernstein

    mickey-who’s that guy who paints(or has the work done for him)with the cosy designs of a cheery heated cabin in the dead of winter-Thomas something or other?the concept isn’t bad-some Pennsylvania artist did something a little similar(but not at all cutesy) -i have a book with some of his stuff.
    it’s like eating too much ice cream-you just want to puke(i hate ice cream)

  7. I know I said I was gonna leave the artistic discussion to those more qualified. But I just can’t help myself. So let me throw this out.

    In my mind, it is possible that the artistic impact here is not about the image, but the use of the image and the laws surrounding the way images are created and used.

    This is not a new discussion. From Stetsasonic and other early audio samplers to YouTube mashup videos that mix incongruous audio and video tracks from TV, there is a body of stuff (I won’t call it ‘work’) that is clustering around the idea that elements of the main stream media should be the raw material of another artistic expression. By appropriating/taking/stealing these images and turning them into some other expression, the power of the MSM is somehow reduced. cf – Burrough on “image is virus”

    I could even see this lawsuit – where a MASSIVE international corporation unleashes its legal mite on a single individual – as a kind of bizarre performance art. This poster has caused the AP to act aggressively and perhaps not in its best interest. The act of challenging the law is its own statement.

    cf – Abbie Hoffman, Steal this Book

    Now, by all means, rend me asunder. Artistically, of course.

  8. “Just as “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, appropriation is the last refuge of a (conceptually) lazy artist.”

    jones – actually i think appropriation would be more accurately the last refuge of a technically lazy artist, where as conceptually it’s pretty unwavering.
    denying influence is one thing, embracing it and working with it is a whole other thing.

    iremember- if you wanna play the “as an artist myself” card that’s cool, but just because you’re an artist doesn’t make you the end all be all of what passes as “good” or even “acceptable” as art. you don’t have to paint and draw pictures from your imagination to make “passable” art, there are different kinds of work, this is obvious. and sometimes, simply because you don’t like a work or series or painting or whatever, it has succeeded.

    as i said before i don’t really like fairey’s work, aesthetically i’m not really into it, plus he’s been doing pretty much the exact same thing for years and years so i’m kind of bored with it. if he’s a “hack”, it’s for this reason. he’s found this “thing” and latched onto it and reproduced it infinitely—but whatever, i’m defending it because it’s conceptually solid, and it makes sense.

  9. This guy Fairey has made a career out of lifting images that don’t belong to him then passing them off as his own. As an artist myself this is the lowest thing you can do. He doesn’t deserve any support as an artist. You people that believe he doesn’t do this are gravely misinformed and need to do your homework before you embrace your poster boy. Now I see the Obama picture was lifted as well! Great Artist indeed. Great hack non-artist is more like it.

  10. Just as “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, appropriation is the last refuge of a (conceptually) lazy artist.
    Fairey may be innocent of plagiarism in the eyes of the law, but he is guilty of creating a shallow, safe, one-note body of work by collecting a host of obvious signifiers to combine and recombine, creating more product than provocative art.

  11. weither or not fairey sold his work himself is irrelevant, especially since the image is not in any way plagiarism–it’s appropriation, at most, as we talked about before. additionally, in court cases about fair use in regards to individual artists (versus, say, corporations or whatever), the artists (not in this instance to imply journalistic photography is not an art of sorts) most often win– it’s just not generally so publicized (er… covered. by the news).
    also, i remember fairey mentioning in an interview (i think on colbert report?) about how anyone can use his image of obama however they want. so– maybe fairey sold his edition of 100 screenprints for however much, but there are a bunch of people, including the campaign itself (i think) using it for…whatever.

  12. I think I remember that it was an original limited-edition print of the poster, which would have come right from his studio. I think they were even signed by him.

  13. Yes. The image has been sold on mugs, on t-shirts, on all kinds of things. But, as I understand it, not by Fairey. Assuming his fair use defense holds, Fairey could theoretically seek to recoup from those people that did sell.

    Regardless of people’s opinions of the publisher, TechCrunch does a pretty good job, and they assert that the AP has a history of bringing IP suits that push the envelope of interpretation. TechCrunch have banned links to the AP for just this kind of douche-bag BS.

  14. I distinctly recall this poster being sold at some point, in some kind of limited edition thing, right?

  15. Mickey and Frymaster have it right.

    Was he plagarizing Andre the Giant by using his likeness? Obama’s? Bush’s?

    The very point of his art is to make the viewer rethink his/her surroundings and the meaning of images s/he sees. Vital to that is using images that people will recognize and, therefore, already exist.

  16. If someone at PDD would moderate my previous, you’d see links to legal resources — including the Stanford Fair Use project who happen to be Fairey’s defense team — you’d see that I leave artistic discussion to those so qualified. I’m just trying to set up some legal context.

    Long story short, because Fairey did not sell these, AP has zero case.

  17. Meh, I always thought he had a good schtick going. I still find Vanilla Ice’s appropriation of a Queen bassline more insulting to my intelligence and far more egregious.

  18. err, actually, i’m not the biggest fan of fairey’s work, but the article quoted that compares fairey to lichtenstein is ridiculous. turning a photo into a screenprint is hardly plagiarism, especially how fairey does it, it’s recontextualizing the image and making something new out of it, something the original image didn’t contain. in this case, it’s taking an everyday news photo that you wouldn’t glance at twice and turning it into a recognizable iconographic image that represents something.
    additionally, his attitude is hardly “woops i stole this picture! jokes on you!!!”, and its kind of silly to even say so, because it IS obvious some of his imagery is appropriated. even the style is appropriated! he needn’t “acknowledge” anything because it’s already acknowledged by being so obvious. that’s kind of half the point. and the fact that the man is a legend makes it even more perfect, cuz it’s built on “propaganda”.
    there’s a counter article to the one knocking fairey, i think i should try and find the link and you guys should read it.
    anyway, there is stuff wrong with his work sometimes, but that is not the article to reference.

  19. Wow. That website is pretty crazy. And Fairey should either acknowledge that his art is based on other people’s work or offer a response.

  20. joe bernstein

    I have a lot of interest in graphic art,particularly posters and have numerous books on the subject.
    This is a direct steal of someone else’s artistic output.A lot of Fairey’s work loks like you’ve seen it or something incredibly similar elsewhere.Following a style set by another artist(s) is certainly legitimate whole appropriation of other’s images is plagiarism.
    Interestingly,remaking films is not.Maybe because they are presented as remakes,but I think that’s a good question.

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