The main issue in the legal battle between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic poster of Barack Obama which “quoted from” a photograph the Associated Press says it owns, is whether there really is a Web-given right to remix copyrighted images to create new works of art.
Anyone who wants to get involved directly in the debate can now turn to the Web site Obamicon.me, which greets users with an invitation to “make your own ‘Obamicon’ — your image in a style inspired by Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster.” The site makes it easy to upload an image, click a button and produce an auto-generated mash-up in the style of Mr. Fairey’s iconic Obama poster. Then you can order posters, T-shirts, stamps or a range of other products featuring the new image you’ve created. Since the software allows users to upload not just snapshots of themselves, their children and their pets, but any image, screen-grab or photograph that can be pulled onto a desktop, the hundreds of thousands of Obamicons already created and archived on the site include a large number that obviously quote from copyrighted images, of everyone from Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and Stephen Colbert (at right) to Sarah Palin and Yoda (below).
Browsing through the gallery of Obamicons, it is clear that the vast majority are made from snapshots people have taken themselves. But the most inspired work so far has been done with images that might be off-limits if the A.P.’s lawyers somehow manage to defeat Mr. Fairey’s fair-use argument, and force him to pay for the use of the photograph.
In reality, though, what the Obamicons quote from is not any one photograph, copyrighted or not, but rather the way that Mr. Fairey reworks the images he finds. So if anyone would have a case for shutting the site down, it might be Mr. Fairey — who is obviously unlikely to make that argument.