Shepard Fairey pleads guilty to contempt in Obama “Hope” poster case

L.A. street artist reportedly falsified evidence and destroyed documents in copyright battle

It’s a sordid ending for an uplifting image: Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles street artist behind Barack Obama’s famous “Hope” campaign poster, pleaded guilty Friday to criminal contempt for destroying and fabricating evidence in a copyright case with the Associated Press (AP).

The 2008 poster catapulted Fairey, 42, to international fame and reportedly earned his company $3 million in clothing and merchandise sales. In 2009, however, the AP claimed that Fairey’s poster was based on one of its photos. The artist pre-emptively sued the news agency, saying that his poster was based on an AP photograph of Barack Obama and actor George Clooney at a 2006 National Press Club event, and should be protected by the “fair use” doctrine. In actuality, he had used a different, cropped photograph of Obama taken at the same event by freelance AP photographer Mannie Garcia.

To hide this fact, Fairey falsified evidence, deleted incriminating electronic documents and attempted to coach a potential witness, according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He also ignored deadlines for producing discovery documents during the trial.

Fairey and the AP reached an undisclosed financial settlement in the copyright case last year, and the artist agreed not to use unlicensed AP photos in his future work.

The contempt charge carries a possible sentence of six months in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Fairey will be sentenced on July 16.

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Alanna Byrne

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