The Associated Press vs Fairey: The Copyright of ‘Hope’

After seeing the Tony Abbott ‘Hopeless’ photo the other day and going off the theme of copyright, It reminded me of a copyright case that no one really thought was deemed copyright material, to the point where most people would recognise the image and not associate it with its unedited version. I’m talking about the infamous Obama ‘Hope’ poster that became a symbol for Obama’s campaign, and became an image that will live in infamy. However, what many people don’t realise is that the artist of this piece, Shepard Fairey was in fact sued by the Associated Press, due to the use of the Obama image that was taken by an AP freelancer Mannie Grace.

So what was the outcome of this situation?

Associated Press demanded compensation for its use in Fairey’s work. But using the defence of fair use, Fairey claimed his work didn’t reduce the value of the original photograph. This lead to both the artist and AP came to a private settlement which included a split in the profits for the work.

But how was Fairey making money from this artwork?

The Obama ‘Hope’ artwork became an instant success and was put on cups, t-shirts and posters. To use this images on their products, I assume that companies would ask Fairey permission for his work in return for a commission on merchandising sale. I think that in some ways that it was unfair for Fairey to be making money off an image that was not his, however, his original concept through the editing of the photo does deserve recognition.

The significance of this case was how it created a discourse in a piece of works value, during these copyright battles. Fairey’s poster had reached a high level of fame through his artistic approach to the image, a level of fame that Garcia’s work could never reach on its own. Garcia does admit, however, that he was proud of how famous his photograph had become and believed that Fairey’s artistic approach to the image had a massive effect on it’s rise to prominence. I do agree with Garcia though, when he had a problem with Fairey taking the image without permission and without giving credit where credit is due.


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