Letter from the editor

Hope. The word has become a crucial part of an iconic symbol from the recent election. Every US citizen knows the Warhol-style poster with President Obama’s face looking off into the distance with the word “hope” in all caps below. The poster became a vital force behind Obama’s campaign and original copies of the painting are now being auctioned off, some for as much as $180,000. However, the money Shepard Fairey, artist of the painting, earned from the auction will soon belong to the Associated Press (AP) if the news network gets its way.

Fairey’s “Hope” is modeled after a picture taken by the AP of Obama in a similar pose. Now, after the poster’s popularity has reached epidemic proportions across the globe, AP is filing a lawsuit, claiming the rights to the poster and demanding a portion of the profit. Fairey has refused, and rightly so.

Here’s a similar, but more relatable situation for you: You’re hanging out with you friends when you decide to videotape yourselves, doing parkour or goofing off or whatever. That night you go home, edit the video and put in some background music from your favorite artist. You post your little video on Youtube and Facebook to share with your friends, but in the process the video goes viral and it suddenly gets a lot of attention from bloggers, surfers, websites, even the press. Now people want to buy your video or your services and you’re just happy to get some dough for gas or college or that new iPod. And then the phone call comes. You’re being sued by the artist whose music you used for copyright infringement.

Technically you’re a criminal, facing criminal charges for a harmless video of your friends for which you received no profit originally. Now, the question is, should you be? My answer: absolutely not.
There is this little thing called the “Fair Use Act” which should protect Fairey. Fair Use protects citizens from being unjustly persecuted for basing off or using pieces of a work for educational or nonprofit purposes. However, even the US Copyright Office sees the line between Fair Use and Copyright Infringement as “unclear.” Many look at the product under consideration and try to determine if it is a changed product, with specific influence from the creator, or if is a copy with little difference between the original and the new product. Obviously, Fairey’s poster was not a copy, or else the AP would have known that the product was based on their picture, without Fairey having to tell them. If you want to get picky about it, then every artist who bases their work of something else must be sued; everything from Andy Warhol’s “10 Marilyns” – based on a picture of Marilyn Monroe – to Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” – based on a scene in the Bible – is up for lawsuit grabs.

Fair Use should be used to protect a person’s artistic influence. Humans are just not original; everything we create is inspired by something else. Fairey’s painting is not the AP’s work, but merely inspired by it, and no artist should be punished for their inspiration, or else there would be no art.

What this whole lawsuit, and the majority of all lawsuits, boils down to is money.  The AP had no problem with Fairey’s work, until he started receiving money for his work. Then the corporate greed took over. Notice how the AP is not telling Fairey to cancel production of his work, but instead demanding cuts from his profits. If they were really upset about the damage done by basing a piece of art off of their picture, they wouldn’t allow Fairey to continue making his paintings at all. No. It’s all about the money. And if we don’t stand up for our right to be inspired, then there is no hope for Fairey; there is no hope for any of us.