Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Fair Use Meme Goes Mainstream

Images by Manny Garcia/Shepard Fairey

Interesting stuff taking place with regards to one Shepard Fairey, whose ubiquitous poster of Barack Obama has become such a cultural phenom, it's being reinterpreted from all different angles by thousands of people. This process is nothing new for Fairey, a well known street artist whose reputation is checkered by charges of plagerism and unoriginality. Andy Warhol probably ran into similar criticisms as an artist, yet in retrospect, is today hailed as a pioneering artist and cultural icon. So one could argue the similarities between Warhol and Fairey, and argue that this type of "fair use" has been going on for quite some time.

Jasper Johns earned his legacy by lifting the national icon. Or Roy Lichtenstein, whose work hangs in the most important art museums in the world. Lichtenstein used oil and Magna paint in his best known works, such as Drowning Girl (1963), which was appropriated from the lead story in DC Comics' Secret Hearts #83. (Drowning Girl now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, New York).

This plays right into Larry Lessig's view of the remix. It's obvious to even the most casual observer that Fairey's poster was "inspired" by the photograph. Perhaps it was the composition, or it could have actually just been the ability to capture that exact moment with Obama that made that photo inspire Fairey to create his poster. But his poster definitely "reinvents" the photo, or perhaps a better word would be "the image" (and the photo just happened to capture the original image). In that sense, Fairey appropriated, and added artistic value to the image.

Also nice to see Dr. Lessig is on it.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that this huge cultural phenom is now going to be discussed in broader terms than just how cool the poster is. It will bring the debate into the mainstream in a manner that can be understood by the masses, and debate on this is a good thing. It's time for a larger discussion of intellectual property reform as technology enables more open, easy, and free widespread distribution of ideas.

bring it on.