Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shepard Fairey, Plagiarist

I'm not a fan of Shepard Fairey's politics, but I love his artwork. It's vibrant, vivid stuff. A pity that it's not actually his. After his lawyers ditched him for lying to them, he admitted that he did steal an image from the Associated Press as the basis of his famous "Hope" poster of President Obama.

It gets worse: here's a post from 2007 by a man named Mark Vallen showing, image by image, how much work Fairey has plagiarized. (H/T)

Had Fairey identified himself as a collage artist and been upfront about his incorporation of outside images, there would be no ethical issue at stake. There might be legal issues for copyrighted images, of course, but not an ethical one.

The work in Fairey's portfolio is simply stunning and I'd love to have many of these images adorn the walls of my home. They remain beautiful. They're just not Fariey's.


Jason said...

Great post. This is an argument that is near and dear to my heart for two reasons. The first is that I am a fan of Shepard Fairey's work. The second is that consider myself to be a graphic artist and I use a technique that is comparable to that of Fairey's. I have to admit that I have used sources from the internet as models for a piece here and there. But I never use some other artist’s artwork to reproduce the way Fairey has. And I wouldn't use someone else’s artwork in a line of merchandise. In my opinion his work violates the 'Fair Use Rule' because it copies the original work as a whole, and it affects the value of the original. The photographer could have licensed this image for his own merchandise, but who would buy it if it's exactly the same as a poster they bought from Fairey. The evidence amassed against him is over-whelming. My hope is that he learns his lesson and becomes a better artist for it.

Anonymous said...

I can see a lot of artistic reasons for "plagiarizing" the work of someone else. But any artistic reason I can think of depends on the source being immediately recognizable in the art that takes from it. If the source material isn't clearly evident, isn't acknowledged by the artist, then it isn't satire, it isn't commentary, it isn't homage... it's just (at best) artistic laziness and (in most cases) just plain theft.

I looked through his history of plagiarism. Awful. It's really too bad, because in the one piece I'd heard about Fairey and the Obama picture, it sounded like he was getting a bad deal, kicked around for what was really just "fair use." That line up of pictures tells a pretty different story.