Sweet, sweet hypocrisy

Honestly, I thought it would take longer for a story like this to surface.  But it didn’t!

Shepard Fairey is the creator of the iconic Obama “Hope” poster. He’s been admired by critics and guerilla artists, and just weeks ago he was the subject of a profile on CBS Sunday Morning. But Pittsburgh graphic designer Larkin Werner has a different perspective. To him, Fairey is the guy who is “picking on a baby.”

The baby in question is Steelerbaby, a blue-eyed kewpie doll clad in a knit black-and-gold uniform. Steelerbaby became an online hit — he boasts more than 2,000 friends on Facebook — after Werner created a Web site for the doll during the NFL playoffs in 2005. The following year, he started designing and selling Steelerbaby merchandise at the online store cafepress.com to satisfy demand for the doll Werner describes as “slightly creepy.”

But early last month, Werner learned that Fairey’s company, Obey Giant Art Inc., sent cafepress.com a cease-and-desist letter, informing the online store that Steelerbaby’s merchandise marked with the word “Obey” was infringing on the artist’s trademark.

(emphasis added; h/t gawker via likelihoodofconfusion)

I know that I claimed in the About Page that I would probably come down as pretty pro-IP in most cases.  The hypocrisy here, though, is just too ridiculous to side with Fairey.  How can anyone take this guy seriously?

To take something useful out of this, though… maybe there’s a way for people like Fairey to create art with no regard for the IP rights of others on one hand, and then to zealously protect their own commercial successes on the other hand without looking like a hypocrite.  Maybe Fairey could have come to an arrangement with a rights-management firm so that they would manage the brand while he stayed at arms-length.  Then Fairey can go out in the marketplace and look like this Lessig-esque “information should be free” activist, while the rights management firm roughed people up in the background.  It’s not perfect, but at least one might have to do some digging to link the two.  At least, more digging then when the business entity is named after your most famous work, and when the trademarks issue in your own name.

(Stay tuned… later, maybe we’ll look at what Fairey has actually registered to see what needs such vigilant protection)