Artist behind Obama 'Hope' poster had lost his hope but then was found

The Bartow Collection expands its reach from the display case to the nearby walls of the IP Library. Street artist Shepard Fairey and The Associated Press settled a copyright dispute over who owned the rights to the iconic Obama “Hope” poster.

An out-of-court settlement ended the closely watched, 2-year-old lawsuit without resolving the underlying legal issue: whether Fairey had a fair use right under copyright law to produce the graphic based on an Associated Press photo snapped of then Sen. Barack Obama at the National Press Club in 2006. The wire service did not surrender its position that Fairey infringed the AP’s works with a “form of computerized paint by the numbers.” And Fairey maintained he transformed the AP’s image enough to constitute a fair use of the work under copyright law. Fairey had long claimed he based his abstract graphic rendition on a photo of Obama seated next to actor George Clooney. But he later admitted he actually used a solo shot of Obama from the same event, and had destroyed and fabricated evidence to support his story.

Though both photos at issue were shot by the same AP photographer, the fact that the solo shot of Obama was the source was important because the more one transforms a photograph, the higher the chances that the resulting art constitutes a fair use of the original work. The AP claimed Fairey generated $400,000 in sales of the image, which had adorned websites, posters, stickers, shirts and buttons at the time of Obama’s presidential election. According to the settlement’s terms, the two sides agreed “to work together going forward with the Hope image and share the rights to make the posters and merchandise bearing the Hope image and to collaborate on a series of images that Fairey will create based on AP photographs.” Financial terms remained confidential.

FAIREY ET AL v. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. DISTRICT COURT, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK