Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Because of evidence bungle, we may never get a verdict in the Fairey fair use case

Wired reported last week that Shepard Fairey lied to his attorneys and tried to destroy evidence related to his copyright infringement case brought by the Associated Press for his adaptation of an AP photo of Barack Obama.

Quick recap: Shepard Fairey, a visual artist known for his provocative street art, created an iconic campaign poster for the Obama 2008 campaign. Fairey did not reveal the model for the image in the poster, but when it was discovered that the portrait was based on a 2006 photograph taken by an AP photographer, the AP sued Fairey for using their image without permission.

The suit quickly became the basis for a hot debate on fair use, the copyright doctrine that allows for portions of copyrighted works to be used by others under certain circumstances. I've written about the case twice, here and here.

Part of the case was a dispute about which of two very similar photos Fairey based his work on. Last week Fairey admitted that he had lied about which photo he used and had tried to destroy evidence. He claims that it was initially a mistake, but that he continued to lie once he realized his mistake.

Many in the press have speculated that Fairey's ethical blunder may cause him to lose his case before the fair use element can be argued.

That would be a serious bummer. Interpretation of copyright law in the United States is largely based on precedent; a ruling in this case from a Federal judge would have offered some guidance on some very pressing copyright questions.

The case isn't closed yet, so I suppose you could say there's still "hope" that we'll get a ruling out of this after all.

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