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Obama poster artist Shepard Fairey sentenced in contempt case

The Los Angeles street artist received two years of probation and a $25,000 fine for tampering with evidence in a copyright case

Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $25,000 Friday for tampering with evidence in a copyright battle over the image featured on the poster.

The poster became one of the most recognizable images of the 2008 presidential campaign. But the Associated Press (AP) claimed that the image that Fairey used on his poster was based on one of the news agency’s photos of then-Senator Obama. Fairey preemptively sued the AP in 2009, claiming that he had used another photo that fell under the “fair use” doctrine.

When the Los Angeles street artist later realized that he had, in fact, used the original AP photograph, he falsified evidence and deleted incriminating electronic documents to hide his mistake. The AP and Fairey eventually settled the case for an undisclosed sum, but government prosecutors forged ahead with a criminal contempt charge related to Fairey’s cover-up.

The artist, who pleaded guilty in February, faced up to six months in prison. Prosecutors had sought jail time in the case, but Fairey’s lawyer pushed for a more lenient sentence, arguing that the artist had readily admitted wrongdoing, even before the government investigation.

In a statement posted on his website, Fairey admitted tampering with evidence but maintained that he could have won the case with his fair-use argument. “The damage to my own reputation is dwarfed by the regret I feel for clouding the issues of the Fair Use case,” his statement reads. “I let down artists and advocates for artist’s [sic] rights by distracting from the core Fair Use discussion with my misdeeds.”

Read more from the New York Times.

For more InsideCounsel coverage of the case, see:

Shepard Fairey pleads guilty to contempt in Obama poster case

Obama “HOPE” artist and AP settle copyright claims

Alanna Byrne

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