Copyright who?

Recently I read about this copyright controversy happening over an image of Barack Obama created by the artist Shepard Fairey. Apparently “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.” (yahoo news). Now the AP (Associated Press) claims that the copyright lies with them, and they should get compensation. The artist does not quite agree.

Obama Poster

In this case, I agree with the artist, because it seems he has used the photograph as a reference to create a new piece of art. It has been worked upon a good deal. If he had just applied a sepia tint to the photograph and claimed it to be his, then that would be copyright infringement. But he has changed the visual. It has been transformed from a realistic photograph to an illustration.

On the other hand the work of photographers has to be protected as well. We tend to take photographs for granted once they are published in the press or online. We need to know when to draw the line, when does a visual change from ‘theirs’ to ‘mine’. As designers we need to be aware of the copyright issues, and what we can use, and what we can claim as our own. All artists, designers etc draw upon an existing bank of images and concepts in their head at some point in the creative process. It seems really hard to create something so new and original that no one has ever seen it before. Not to say that designer’s copy, but they do take reference and inspiration from different sources. Giving credit, and compensation, where its due is essential, and a part of design ethics.

Anyway, Shepard Fairey is not a crook. So claims the New York Times. But after reading this article, it looks like he has done a bit too much copy paste. It does seem like some of his previous work is a rip-off, even if his Obama poster isn’t. Getting inspired is one thing, just copying someone else’s art is very different. At the same time, he seems to do it intentionally. He wants to make a statement by using that art. So is it copying or not? I am still confused.

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