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Obama ‘Hope’ Artist Fairey Sentenced to Community Service

Artist Shepard Fairey stands for a photo with his print depicting U.S. President Barack Obama, in his studio in Los Angeles on May 5, 2008. Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg
Artist Shepard Fairey stands for a photo with his print depicting U.S. President Barack Obama, in his studio in Los Angeles on May 5, 2008. Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Shepard Fairey, the artist who created an iconic 2008 election poster of Barack Obama based on an Associated Press photo, was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for destroying documents and manufacturing evidence in a copyright suit with AP over the image.

Fairey, of Los Angeles, was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine by U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas today in Manhattan federal court. Fairey pleaded guilty in February and faced as long as six months in jail.

Fairey, 42, apologized for his actions, calling them “the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

The plea stemmed from a civil copyright case Fairey and AP settled last year. Fairey had sued AP in 2009, seeking a ruling that his poster didn’t infringe the copyright because his use of the photograph was protected by “fair use.” The news organization countersued.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Levy urged Maas to sentence Fairey to some time in jail or in a halfway house.

“This was extraordinarily serious litigation misconduct,” Levy argued.

Fairey’s lawyer, Daniel Gitner, argued that his client had agreed to pay $1.6 million to AP to settle the civil suit and to compensate the news service for his misconduct.

In addition to the fine and community service, Maas sentenced Fairey to two years’ probation, which he said may be reduced after a year once he completes the community work.

Presidential Race

In support of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Fairey made posters using a stylized likeness of the candidate with the words “Hope” and “Progress” below the images, relying on a photograph copyrighted by AP, according to the government.

In his complaint, Fairey claimed he used as a visual reference an AP photograph of then-Senator Obama and actor George Clooney taken at an April 2006 National Press Club event, according to prosecutors. In fact, Fairey used another image from the same event -- a tightly cropped image of Obama gazing up, which was also an AP photograph, the government claimed.

To cover up his false complaint, Fairey created multiple fraudulent documents attempting to show that he had used the photograph of Obama and Clooney, and he tried to delete electronically stored documents that demonstrated that he had used the tightly cropped image, prosecutors said.

“I accept the judge’s sentence and look forward to finally putting this episode behind me,” Fairey said in a written statement distributed after the hearing.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Fairey, 1:12-cr-00180, and the civil case is Fairey v. Associated Press, 1:09-cv-01123, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Van Voris in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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