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The Fine Art Of Copyright

Publication Date: 
March 16, 2009
The Wall Street Journal
L. Gordon Crovitz

Professor Lawrence Lessig and the Fair Use Project, as well as Lessig's book "Remix" are noted in a Wall Street Journal article about copyright issues surrounding Shepard Fairey's Obama - Hope poster:

Until the digital age, the common view of copyright law was that it served overreaching corporations against creative little guys. Groucho Marx once generated publicity for the Marx Brothers film "A Night in Casablanca" by playing on this cynicism. Warner Bros. asked for the plot of the film, fearing it would spoof its Humphrey Bogart classic, "Casablanca." Groucho Marx responded with a letter threatening a counterclaim against Warner for using the word "Brothers."

Now disputes are as likely to be little guy versus little guy, with artists and photographers split over the Obama case. One side defends poster artist Shepard Fairey, while the other cries foul on behalf of freelance photographer Mannie Garcia, who took a striking photo in 2006 while on assignment for the Associated Press of then Sen. Barack Obama gazing off to one side. Mr. Fairey discovered the photo on Google and used it, without crediting the photographer, to create the "Hope" poster. With Mr. Fairey's permission, the Obama campaign widely used this image to support the candidate.


As for Mr. Fairey, instead of agreeing on a licensing fee, he worked with Stanford University's Fair Use Project to sue the AP, claiming that the poster was fair use of the photo. The Stanford group, founded by Lawrence Lessig, favors fewer protections for copyright. In Mr. Lessig's recent book, "Remix," he rightly criticized many copyright claims. He cited the lawsuit brought by Universal Music against a woman for posting on YouTube an amusing clip of her infant dancing to a song by Prince. There's no opportunity to license snippets of songs and no harm done to Prince.

But this case is different. The AP and Mr. Garcia make their livings selling their work. As a reader commented on Mr. Lessig's blog, "I don't think photographers, professional and amateur, are going to appreciate free-culture types saying that their work is not creative since it only took a second to snap a picture."