Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fairey's New Hope

Here's an article about Shepard Fairey's changing lawyers in his case about his copyright infringement of a photograph to create the poster of Barack Obama called "Hope."

His new lawyer from Jones, Day (the largest law firm in Cleveland, and one of the largest in the world--I cannot figure out why they've even taken this case since they are a corporation-side law firm) says that one of the ways Fairey can win is "fair use." This is so not fair use.

Fairey took the whole of the work.

Applying a posterizing filter in Photoshop is so not transformative.

He's denied the photographer (and there is still an issue about whether the photograph is AP's property or the original, freelance photographers--C.C.N.V. v. Reid says it's the photographer, not AP that owns the image) the right to make that own derivative work.

Whether or not he's made money for this, his lawyers better take a close look at Rogers v. Koons, which also says this isn't fair use and any money is going to go to the photographer (or AP, if it does turn out AP owns the image.) In the Rogers' case, Jeff Koons took a greeting card with Rogers' photograph of two people holding a litter of puppies, ripped off the copyright notice, sent the photo to artisans in Italy who fabricated a statue of the images--I think nine of them were made--and Koons then sold them at over six-figures a pop, because he is "an artist.') (Koons has also been sued by--and lost to--Jim Davis for doing a statue of Odie from "Garfield." Some people never learn.)

Fairey's poster is an unauthorized derivative work of this photograph, just as the Koons statue was. I think that the judge should have made that ruling on a motion and saved a lot of people a whole lot of money and labor in legal fees. I had a case where the judge pulled in all of the parties--including insurance companies who'd be doing the payout--and told us all the case was about money and there was a price that would make it all go away. He was right. While the insurance defense firm was royally pissed that the parties could do this, it worked out well for everyone else.

Jones, Day is the same law firm that represented the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame against a photographer who made a poster from his shot of the building at sunset--which is, by the way, a fair use--claiming that it was a violation of the Rock Hall's trademark rights in the building. While the trial judge in Cleveland took that hook, line, and sinker, the Sixth Circuit saw right through what had happened (Jones, Day could say what ever it wanted to in Cleveland with no law to back it up against a misguided photographer who represented himself at the hearing) and ruled that because the Rock Hall had no standing to sue on the basis that the photograph infringed on their copyright (the copyright to a building actually rests with the architect and anyone can photograph a building from a public place and not infringe that copyright--as the law clearly says) the lawyers stretched to find a trademark right in every image of the building, which does not exist. It was a nice ruling for the photographer.

You'd think that Jones, Day would have lawyers who know more about copyright than to take this case thinking they can win under the argument of "fair use."