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)

The definitive answer in the Obama poster debate

Stephen Colbert recently hosted a debate between David Ross, former Director of the Whitney Museum, and Stephen’s brother Ed, a partner at Kenyon & Kenyon who specializes in copyright.  This debate produced what I think is probably the definitive answer on how the Shepard Fairey copyright debate should come out.

The money quote:

STEPHEN: Who do you really think is right?

ED:  Who’s paying me?

The Obama Poster Copyright Mess

One of the more interesting things going on in “popular IP” right now is the Shepard Fairey copyright dispute.  This has been blogged about and written about extensively elsewhere, but to sum up where it’s at right now:

  1. Mannie Garcia took a photograph of Obama.
  2. The AP (maybe) acquired the rights to the photograph from Mannie Garcia.
  3. Shepard Fairey copied the photograph and altered it to create the ubiquitous red and blue Obama “Hope” poster.
  4. The AP threatened to sue Fairey for copyright infringement, but during settlement negotiations, Fairey filed for a declaratory judgment.

This is another one of those “popular IP” issues where most people read the story and think, “Oh, I heard about this thing called ‘fair use’ one time.  I love that Hope poster!  Therefore, it’s obviously fair use!” 

No.  Well, it’s not obviously fair use, at any rate. 

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