Shepard Fairey pleads guilty over "Hope" court case

No more hope. LA-based street artist Shepard Fairey today entered a guilty plea in his criminal case with the Associated Press. He's facing a maximum sentence of six months in prison. The criminal case concerns not the intellectual property dispute itself, but charges of "criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct" in the civil case, which was settled out of court with AP.


  1. From what the article said, Sheppard Fairey is in trouble for falsifying/destroying evidence, lying etc.  
    The criminal charges have absolutely nothing to do with his artwork or copy write infringement itself.His crime is a Martha Stewart type crime: criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct.

      1. It’s a lot more than insubordination.  He intentionally destroyed and fabricated evidence in a court proceeding — it’s more akin to perjury.

        1. Destroying evidence seems like it should be covered by the Fifth Amendment.  Fabricating, not so much.

        2. Right, all of those acts are reserved for the police and government in general. It’s insubordination for a mere citizen to assume the degree of privilege required to get away with it.

          EDIT: power -> privilege

  2. “The artist pled guilty in a New York court to one count of criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct in his case involving his “Hope” poster of Barack Obama”

    I’ve seen some backlash against the AP (which at this point is misguided), but the verdict is completely warranted if you ask me – not properly attributing the image is one thing, but manufacturing evidence to support your case is just incredibly skeezy.

    1. ‘Zactly. 

      He behaved like an asshole and got caught doing it twice-over. 

      If a court orders you to retain all evidence, you must OBEY. 

    2. his behavior cannot be logically justified, true.  but i suspect that this was primal survival-tactic behavior on his part.  if you grew up as a broke-ass graf writer and have been through the jails and courts a few times, you learn to think in terms of leveling the playing field, because the system is out for your blood.  seriously.

      not saying it’s right, but if you’ve ever been processed as a teen and a public defender was your option, then you learn to go for self in these situations.  dunno Fairey’s history, but he was writing graf and stenciling from a young age.  yeah, he got over and he does OK for himself now, but these things cannot be unlearned.

      from a legal standpoint, he shouldn’t’ve done it; but I’m just saying, if I’m right in this analysis, then I understand why.

    1. Let’s not forget the other umpteen times him or his studio has pilfered work to slap on a t-shirt/poster/keychain/widget/etc.

      Not sure how many times he’s been sued, but this would tend to make you believe that the ego got a little too big for it’s own good.

      1. Agreed. I STILL maintain that the poster itself should have been considered fair use. But I’m a designer, and using source photos for illustration and reference scares the shit out of me (even when I am completely altering and reinterpreting the original). Hell, we were TAUGHT to do that in school.

        But lying and presenting false documents under oath? Pure hubris.

        1. Ditto – I’m in a similar boat. 

          The rule of thumb for the ‘lil guy is that if you’re gonna steal from a heavyweight, ask first. Or fess up when you get caught. 

          And it’s not like he can’t afford a license to use things in his art.

          1. So true. I think Shep went from scrappy little street artist to high profile street wear manufacturer, and didn’t adjust his CYA practices…

      1.  My comment wasn’t about Fairey’s motivation. Rather, it was about the fact that because of the success of this image (limelight, money) he became a target. AP would have never gone after him if this weren’t so. And, he would never have destroyed and fabricated evidence. This isn’t to dismiss his culpability. The whole series of events leading up to his conviction wouldn’t have happened.

  3. I simply can’t understand how the case wasn’t made in the original suit that it’s Obama who owns the rights to his image, not AP, and that Obama approved Fairey’s use of it. Fairey: You have shitty lawyers.

    1. Because that’s simply not the law.   The basic principle of copyright law is that the copyright belongs to either the person who creates the specific copyrighted work (e.g., the person who takes a photograph) or the person/company who hires that person to do so (like AP).  

      I.e., if Obama takes his own self-portrait in a mirror with an iPhone, the he might have a copyright in that particular photograph (because he took it).  However, he can’t generally claim a “copyright” in any photograph of his face taken by someone else.

      There was a hullabaloo about this issue five years ago, when a well-known internet troll, Michael Crook, tried to block people from using his picture on the interest by issuing bogus DMCA takedown notices.  He claimed that he had a “copyright” in any photograph or video of his face.  He was essentially laughed out of court, and had to make an apology to the world for his stupidity as a settlement.

      “Michael Crook apologizes to internet for DMCA abuse” 

      “DMCA Abuser Apologizes for Takedown Campaign”

      “You Can’t Copyright Your Own Face, Dumbass”

      1.  I understand the law, thanks. I also understand how hopelessly outmoded, irrelevant, and obstructive it is in its present forms. I also understand that if I took pictures of, say, Cirque du Soleil performers and began selling them, I would undoubtedly be sued by Cirque du Soleil. A mere photograph does not innately confer copyright. Fairey has established the precedent of basically his entire career as a visual sampler, and in this case he had the sanction of his subject.

        The entire argument could not be a better illustration of why copyright law has become laughably irrelevant and restrictive.

  4. Part of me says, “OH noes! Everything is a re-mix – don’t they know that?”

    The other part of me say, “Farley is kind of a dick, and this isn’t the first time his remix is too close to copying. Meh.”

  5. Just a variation of “contempt of cop”. And the taxpayer gets that tab for vindictive prosecution that serves no public interest.

    1.  Vindictive prosecution? What? Fairey did everything he could to deceive the court. If you don’t believe in the court system, ok that’s your deal, but lying to the court is a serious offense. Presenting false evidence destroys the whole process — a process which from the start is tenuous.

      1. Vindictive prosecution? What? Fairey did everything he could to deceive the court. If you don’t believe in the court system, ok that’s your deal, but lying to the court is a serious offense.

        Except that the whole case was stupid in the first place. His crime of lying to the court about this is a lot like resisting arrest when you’re being arrested for no good reason. It’s legal theater to keep people afraid.

        1.  Except giving the executive branch crap is actually quite a bit different from giving it to the judiciary. As the tone of his apology shows.

        2.  So because you don’t like the case, it’s okay to graffiti the judge like an 80s glamrock video? You have to pick your battles with these things, and Fairey realized too late that pissing on the legal system itself wasn’t a good idea.

  6. Not that he needs it, but a conviction like this should give him some street cred. Many in the BB crowd may realize that this isn’t necessarily a street-cred-type conviction, but most people won’t, and if it’s framed as fighting the (vindictive) man (which it was) then even better!

    Also, it would be pretty badass if Obama granted a pardon, considering the success of the poster for his campaign. But I doubt that will be necessary as surely Fairey’s lawyers will appeal and if there’s any justice they’ll eventually overturn the conviction (or at least commute the sentence).

  7. I am bothered by two things: The first issue I have is that he traced the image.  (c’mon, draw something original)  Second, I think AP would have still gone after him even if he drew it freehand using the image as a reference. In other words there are no good guys in this court case in my book.

    1. I am bothered by two things: The first issue I have is that he traced the image.

      Representational art is quite commonly traced from photographs. It’s how you treat that outline that counts. Only non-artists kvetch about the purity of free-hand drawing.

  8. I laugh every time somebody so boldly points out, “Ah, but you see, he BROKE the LAW! Haha! So there!”

    So what? Let’s forget a moment that judges, oligarchs, police, soldiers, and politicians flout the law basically at will. 

    So there are legal consequences – no dispute there. 
    The implication that there has been some breach of moral conduct is dissapointing. 
    And watching people slink away from Shepard’s side is disappointing. 
    Of course it’s same people who wore his HOPE shirts and bought his posters so they could be up-in-da-club with the street art crowd… I was one of them to an extent – so many of us drank that Obama Koolaid, including the Shep!

    Don’t think he’s aware of it? He put his name and his rep (those take time to build) on the line to make a change for the positive, and at the end of the day, the only ones who benefited were the Obama campaign and the writhing corpse of old-world media. 

    All I’m saying is, it’s easy to kick the guy when he’s down and point the finger at him for his actions, but as any reader of this site knows, when you get caught up in the US court system and your ass is on the bench and the chips are all stacked against you legally AND financially, you might just panic and make a few mistakes. 

    And those are the times that you will need your supporters the most.

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