The Obama Portrait

Three of us from the School of Communications joined the Elon alumni group in Washington, D.C., on a tour of the National Portrait Gallery a few days ago.

We saw portraits of Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin and George W. Bush. The most intriguing for me was a portrait of Barack Obama that is at the heart of an ongoing copyright case.

January 2009 unveiling; photo from the National Portrait Gallery blog

January 2009 unveiling; photo from the National Portrait Gallery web site

Shepard Fairey is the artist behind the Obama portrait. The graphic designer from Los Angeles put a downloadable version of the image on the Web, and the image spread virally to car bumpers, yard signs and T-shirts. The portrait became the most recognizable icon of the campaign.

The Associated Press sued Fairey for copyright infringement. Fairey acknowledges that the portrait is based on an AP photo, but contends that his transformative use of the image is protected under the concept of fair use. Fairey has since countersued the AP to seek a declaration that the portrait is a transformative work protected by fair use.

Decide for yourself by comparing the AP photo and portrait at the end of this AP story: http://www.ap.org/pages/about/whatsnew/wn_020409a.html.

As for me, I consider the portrait a transformative work that falls under the fair use provision, and it was fascinating to see the original artwork at the center of the copyright storm.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Alumni, Freedom of Expression, Visual Communication

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