Photo by Associated Press, Mannie Garcia, Poster by Shepard Fairey

In the past week ever since news hit the wires, literally, when Associated Press said they were considering suing LA street artist Shepard Fairey over copyright infringement for his iconic Obama poster based on an AP image taken by Mannie Garcia, there have been arguments about what is art. Most agree that Shepard’s piece, which included a sketch of Obama that is similar to the Garcia image, then overlaid with various colors, collages, and other iconography to make the piece what it is, is not necessarily a copyright infringement.

At the time of this story, AP was negotiating with Shepard’s lawyer about what to do, because frankly, the Obama poster has already been “used” by bootleggers in various books, ar
ticles, blogs, comic strips, T-shirt graphics, not to mention getting hung in the Smithsonian.

Photo by Associated Press

Ironically, the freelance photographer that the Obama image is mastered after isn’t at all angry about Shepard using his work to create his poster. According to an interview on, he said he thought the picture “looked familiar” but that what Shepard did to it in the end was very cool. He said he was not mad at Shepard at all, and understands that artists often tend to make things from other things. In the end, Garcia said he wouldn’t mind getting a signed litho from Shepard, but that was about it.

Shepard has said throughout the media hype of his iconic Obama poster that he was not profiting from the proceeds made from his art piece and rather, had donated the money to various organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts. If AP seeks money from the proceeds, it will be incredibly hard to track down -in most cases, it’s the bootleggers making the cash.

Shepard’s artwork, like many collage masters, often comes from taking bits and pieces of various art forms such as photos, fonts, words, and patterns and re-creating masterpieces based on various cultural icons. You see this also in music and DJ culture whereby mash-ups are a part of the fabric that makes up many of the best new musical formats today. However this relatively new style of art, call it street art or music mash-ups, does bring in the question on who owns the copyright or is it even copyright-able when it’s changed over so much from the original?

At Label Networks, we love the Shepard poster and think the guy deserves all the credit he’s been getting recently for his artwork because he has brought the streets to the political arena and bottom-up subcultures to the top of media attention -which should have been on the radar years ago (hello, AP?). If for that reason alone, we hope AP doesn’t sue and can figure out an amicable solution instead of taking all the air out of hope .

Hope Poster by Shepard Fairey