Without a trace of ironic awareness, famous poster artist and Obama iconographer Shepard Fairey is complaining on his website, ObeyGiant.com, that CBR has stolen the Obama campaign poster he created from an Associated Press (AP) photo he is accused of stealing from the AP. Is there no longer any honor among intellectual property thieves? Of course not! We gleefully admit our “guilt” in stealing this Obama poster and every other Obama poster Mr. Fairey has ever created or ever will. In his defense, he did not “steal” the AP photo. He merely used it for a reference. In our defense, we offer the same legal theory which Mr. Fairey is using to defeat the lawsuit filed against him by the AP: It is called the “fair use” doctrine.
The website www.copyright.gov quotes Sections 107 though 118 of the Copyright Act (title 17, U.S. Code) and explains that it is lawful to reproduce copyrighted work (literature, images, etc.) for purposes of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” Since our Obama signs “criticize” and “comment” and “report “ and “teach,” we are on very solid legal ground appropriating Mr. Fairey’s posters. The U.S. Copyright Office also explains that such use is further protected if it is intended to be used for “non-profit educational purposes, is reasonable in terms of the “amount and substantiality” of the work reproduced and doesn’t negatively affect “the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” Although we do use a “substantial amount” of Mr. Fairey’s posters (as in, every bit of every one) since we are a non-profit and no one is going to stop buying Mr. Fariey’s posters because they can buy our signs, we are well within the scope of this exception to the general prohibition against unlicensed use of copyrighted materials.
This controversy blew up when Mr. Fairey became aware of our use of huge Obama billboards, featuring his Obama campaign posters, in our protest activity at Notre Dame University. He complained on his website that we were “driving these billboards [with his posters] on semi-trucks around South Bend and flying them from planes ….” Inexplicably, Mr. Fairey placed a photo of one of our billboard trucks on his home page with a link to a second page featuring two more large photos of our trucks. In so doing, he arguably violated our copyrights by making unlicensed use of our signs but we forgive these infractions in the spirit of our mutual committment to excusable acts of piracy. We are actually quite grateful that he is willing to give our Obama Awareness campaign this huge additional exposure but if our use of his posters really does upset him, it is difficult to follow the logic of displaying our signs so prominently.
Referring to himself in the third person, he adds that “we are saddened to see people manipulate Shepard’s illustration of our President in this manner.” The unabashed hero-worship is painfully obvious in his reference to “our President” instead of the less reverential “the president.” It is apparently okay for him to “manipulate” an AP image to make Mr. Obama seem angelic but not okay for us to “manipulate” a Fairey image to associate Mr. Obama with something as demonic as child sacrifice. But in fact, we aren’t “manipulating” Shephard’s images at all. We are merely displaying them beside the abortion photos Mr. Obama doesn’t want the world to see.
This indignation over criticism of Mr. Obama recalls to mind a recent column by economist Robert Samuelson (“Obama’s Dangerous Debt,” May 18, 2009) which makes reference to Mr. “Obama’s zen-like capacity to discourage serious criticism.” I would actually call it “thug-like.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) railed against the “tea parties” which protested Mr. Obama’s Porkulous Bill with the racially-tinged accusation that “it’s despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt ….” Get it? Because Mr. Obama is our first African American president, we aren’t allowed to criticize his policies, with tea parties or Fairey posters.
During the presidential campaign, the race card got played so hysterically that it became essentially impossible to express even moderate disapproval for Mr. Obama’s policies. When Sen. John McCain dared criticize Mr. Obama’s positions, black, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was reported (apnews.myway.com) to have invoked the “hateful atmosphere that segregationist Gov. George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s.” The Washington Post (October 12, 2008) said Mr. Lewis condemned Sen. McCain for “’sowing the seeds of hatred and division’ and accusing the Republican nominee of potentially inciting violence.” When black, House Whip James Clyburn, (D-S.C.) thought Mr. Obama’s policies were being criticized too harshly, abcnews.go.com quoted him as saying Mr. Obama’s opponents had been “’… marginalizing, demonizing and trivializing’” him. “Demonizing?” What could be more “demonic” than Mr. Obama opposing medical care for newborn babies who have just survived a botched abortion?
The best evidence that The Obama Phenomenon has become a pagan religion is the viciousness with which its adherents lash out at dissent. All doubt is heresy. Consider the demands for Nuremburg trials for global warming “deniers.” This is Inquisition stuff.
The Cult of Obama is, indeed, a scary thing. Abortion is its holiest sacrament. It is a religion which venerates icons that have become objects of literal worship. People such as Mr. Fairy are the iconographers who create these sacred images. Wikipedia defines iconography as “image writing,” from the Greek words meaning “image” and “to write.” Mr. Fairey isn’t just an artist, he has morphed into a paid propagandist whose paintbrush “writes images” for the never-ending Obama presidential campaign. He has made himself such an integral element of the Obama myth-making machine that it is difficult to tell where the artist ends and the painterly polemicist begins. Mr. Fairey’s job is to create pop-culture posters which transform Mr. Obama into a mythical figure. Our job is to de-mythologize Mr. Obama by deconstructing those posters. We do that by displaying them beside photos of the babies Mr. Obama is killing. That sounds like “fair use” to us.
Mr. Fairey’s whining seems curious in light of his rather paradoxical professional background. The Boston Globereports (Boston.com, “Shepard the Giant,” Jan. 25, 2009) that versions of the Obama posters which CBR has gleefully ripped off, have hung in the National Portrait Gallery, as well as being published on the covers of Time and Exquire magazines. But as a student, Mr. Fairey was thrown out of art school, is described as having “a thirst for mischief,” and has been arrested fourteen times for vandalism because he glues his posters to public walls under cover of darkness. But he has also done ad campaigns for Pepsi, Netscape and films like “Man on the Moon” and “Walk the Line.” He has additionally done album art for Led Zeppelin, Black Eyed Peas, and a cover for Penguin Books. He now receives royalties for his Obama Inauguration posters but he donated his first Obama poster to the Anointed One’s campaign. Mr. Fairey, however, is not merely an Obama groupie. He is a fierce, albeit laid-back, political partisian, once producing a print which depicted George Bush hugging a bomb.
We glommed onto Mr. Fairey’s Obama posters precisely because they have achieved a truly iconic status. He claims to have distributed 300,000 versions of the images on posters and 500,000 on stickers. The Globe quotes filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (”Super Size Me”) as declaring “That image is now beyond being an artwork.” He adds “It’s almost like the birth of brand Obama.” Rock singer Perry Farrell says “his poster of Obama is really the poster of a generation.” We intend to use these uber-ubiquitous images to rebrand Mr. Obama, not as an heroic statesman, but as a ruthless killer. The more popular these images and Mr. Fairey become, the more effectively we can exploit them. Our juxtaposition of these messianic and horrific pictures isn’t likely to convert hardcore Obama-bots but it is creepy enough to make swing voters squirm. That is a start.
Mr. Fairey argues on his website that the AP frequently uses photographs which “consist almost entirely of copyrighted artwork from me and other artists.” Then he makes an argument with which we totally agree: “As I have stated before I am fighting the AP to protect the rights of all artists but I do want to emphasize one other important point. I’m not accusing the AP of infringing anybody’s rights. I’m saying everyone should have the same broad rights of fair use and free expression, and that includes The [sic] AP. I’m not questioning The [sic] AP’s legal right to do what it does. But I am saying they have to be consistent. They can’t have it both ways. If AP photographs that do nothing but depict other artists’ work are protected by fair use, then my work has to be, too, because it’s at least as transformative, creative and expressive as The [sic] AP photos we identify in my response, if not much more so. If the AP has the right to do what it’s done, then so do I.”
That statement, which we believe he sincerely means, is why it is clear that Mr. Fairey isn’t going to sue us. Not that we would mind the huge publicity which would accrue to our project by contesting such a hypocritical lawsuit. Hitching our Obama Awareness Project to Mr. Fairey’s star has already spawned a publicity windfall worth literally millions of dollars. Our project has now been covered by every major news organization in the country and several abroad. The Globe says “Fairey’s Obama images are now everywhere, and they have landed the artist nearly 100 interviews in the last month, ranging from CNN and The New York Times to “Inside Edition.” He also scored an appearance on “The Colbert Report.” PLEASE SUE US!
Like us, Mr. Fairey admits to hijacking (my word, not his) works not his own. He says the use to which he put the disputed AP photo was ”transformative, creative and expressive.” That also describes the use to which he puts his posters. On his website, Mr. Fairey says he was trained to “appropriate and recontextualize imagery.” Well, that is exactly what we are doing with his art. We “appropriate” them and “recontextualize” them by surrounding them with aborted baby gore. He says he made his Obama posters “as a political statement.” That is how we are also using them but our “political statement” tells “the rest of the story.” He says “the point of the poster is to convince and inspire.” The point of our use of these posters is to convince and sicken.
Some day, perhaps sooner rather than later, Mr. Obama’s rock star aura will fade. His halo will dim. His disastrous policies will wreck our economy, destroy our healthcare system and cripple our national security apparatus. The swing vote will finally come to its senses. There will still be a market for Mr. Fairey’s posters, however, because his KoolAid guzzling customer base will cling, no matter what, to the fairy tale with which Mr. Fairey has helped surround Mr. Obama. But some day, people of conscience and reason will no longer be able to look at Obama posters without recalling the eviscerated, dismembered and decapitated bodies of unborn children. They will wonder what Mr. Obama could possibly have meant when he said at the National Prayer Breakfast, “There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being.”
We are doing all in our power to hasten the arrival of that day and we intend to make Mr. Fairey our partner in this endeavor, whether he likes it or not. It is not that we disrespect him. On the contrary, despite his moral confusion, we admire his talent and idealism. But the stakes are far too high to allow his deification of Mr. Obama to go unchallenged. So we urge Mr. Fairey to keep cranking out the posters and we will keep ripping them off. And by the way, Mr. Fairey isn’t the only producer of presidential paeans. “Artists” such as Boy George are composing and performing liturgical hymns with titles like “Yes We Can” . It doesn’t hold up very well against an offering called (caution; sleeze warning) “Crush On Obama” but it does seem to have to have found its own audience. And Mr. Fairey also has competion from other artists but it turns out to be the photojournalists who are the most prolific progenitors of Obama icons. We are eager to desecrate them as fast as they can be consecrated. See if you can distinguish the genuine article from the counterfeit messianic icons.