Friday, January 23, 2009

An Issue of copyright

I came across and interesting blog post this morning surrounding the now iconic image of President Barack Obama that you have likely seen on the cover of Time Magazine, created by Shepard Fairey. I'll condense the issue as much as I can.

To the top left is the original image shot by Reuter's photographer Jim Young. Below left is the image Fairey created. Fairey stated finding the image using a Google search. Young has stated after learning about the photo's use, "I’m honored, but I’m glad it didn’t come out until after the campaign." 

The issue that everyone is talking about is one of copyright. In fact as far as I can tell, no other source is aware of or asserting that they know whom exactly owns the rights to Young's image. I for one see no wrong doing. Certainly, I'm in favor of copyright protection as a working fine art and commercial photographer. Yet, if we condemn Fairey for using the basis material are we not stifling the spirit of creativity and damaging the ability of art to be an organic form. I think "protection" can be taken too far. 

Let me pose an alternative example, I have a friend who is a mixed media artist who uses torn paper to create portraits. He also made a caricature of Obama taking newspaper articles that featured the now President and tearing them into small pieces then fashioning the random fragments into something resembling Barack. If we take copyright protection to the extreme, he would not have been allowed to create it at all even thought the end product resembles in no way the original material. In the end, it's all about scale. I would love for Seth's work to get the amount of attention that Fairey's has. Unfortunately, Fairey has become the target of much criticism exactly because his work became famous and provides a platform for much finger pointing. 

Yes, Fairey made a profit from his work. Great! Successful modern artists should be lifted up, not put down. In the modern lexicon, we would call these people haters. Indeed if we take copyright as far as some would suggest, I would not be able to include images with this post nor would anyone else.

I'm not suggesting anarchy or a lack of protections for artists of any sort but lament that we must necessarily insert lawyers and lobbyists into another segment of our lives. At least, it's nice to see the dialogue moving. Much like the political process, it takes people adding their two cents from all sides to produce the best results.

Read a dissenting opinion at MYARTSPACE>BLOG.

I guess I'm a believer that things work themselves out. Interestingly enough while on the campaign trail, Young took pictures that had Fairey's poster in them. He did so at that time not knowing that Fairey had used a shot of his as the basis for the poster. He profited off the images. 

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