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Artist behind iconic Obama poster sentenced to two years' probation

Published time: September 07, 2012 16:44
Edited time: September 07, 2012 20:44
Shepard Fairey (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

Shepard Fairey (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

Acclaimed street artist Shepard Fairey has been sentenced to two years’ probation and asked to pay a $25,000 fine after being found guilty of criminal contempt in a case involving his now iconic “HOPE” image adopted by Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Fairey, 42, pleaded guilty back in February to one count of criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reports. The artist had been in trouble with the Associated Press over the alleged misuse of a photograph taken of Mr. Obama by an AP staffer in 2006, only to admit after the fact that he attempted to present himself as innocent by fabricating elements in his case.

While Fairey initially received accolades for his “Hope” image used during President Obama’s first run for the White House, the AP insisted that the artist was guilty of copyright infringement, a claim he contested by saying the image was protected under fair-use laws. In return, Fairey turned around and filed a suit against the AP, but not before publically admitting in October 2009 that he lied about the photograph he used for his source, nearly one year after Fairey’s image helped elect President Obama.

“In an attempt to conceal my mistake, I submitted false images and deleted other images,” Mr. Fairey said at the time. “I sincerely apologize for my lapse in judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions, which were mine alone.”

The prosecution in the case had argued to US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas that Fairey had “both an ideological and financial motive” to falsify his claims, calling his behavior actions that “cannot be dismissed as remotely impulsive or the product of a moment of bad judgment.”

“This was not a mere failure to preserve documents,” the prosecution claimed. “This was the intentional destruction of evidence and the intentional manufacture of false evidence. The defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he created the fake documents and sought to destroy the deleted documents.”

“In order to cover up the fact that the assertion in his complaint was untrue, Fairey created multiple false and fraudulent documents that attempted to show he had used the photograph of then-Senator Obama with George Clooney in it as his reference,” the Justice Department said. “Fairey also attempted to delete multiple electronically stored documents demonstrating that he had, in fact, used the tightly cropped image of then-Senator Obama as the reference. The false and fraudulent documents were produced to the AP during discovery, and the documents that Fairey attempted to delete were not initially produced to the AP.”

After the artist came clean, the AP released a statement from their general counsel, Srinandan R. Kasi, addressing Fairey’s admitted fabrication: “The A.P. intends to vigorously pursue its countersuit alleging that Fairey willfully infringed The AP’s copyright in the close-up photo of then-Senator Obama by using it without permission to create the Hope and Progress posters and related products, including T-shirts and sweatshirts that have led to substantial revenue.”

Now with the case settled in court, the AP says they hope the worst of the matter is over.

“After spending a great amount of time, energy and legal effort, all of us at The Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt says in a statement released this week. “We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content.”

Fairey had previously settled a civil case with the AP over the case, the agency reports, paying them $1.6 million in damages.