Another installment in the protracted legal saga surrounding Shepard Fairey occurred last week in New York Federal District Court. The Los Angeles artist pled guilty to criminal contempt for concealing and destroying evidence during the lawsuit between Fairey and the Associated Press. The suit centered on Fairey’s alleged infringement of the AP’s copyrighted photograph of Barack Obama to create his iconic “Hope” poster for the president’s 2008 campaign. Fairey and the AP settled this civil suit out of court last year, in part agreeing to split proceeds from a line of merchandise based on Fairey’s poster.
In spite of this settlement, Fairey still faced criminal charges for his less-than-honorable conduct in relation to the suit. Initially, Fairey sued AP, seeking a court declaration that he did not violate their copyright when he designed the poster. The media cooperative countersued, claiming that Fairey infringed the copyright of their legally protected photograph. Fairey first claimed that he used a different photograph of Obama, but later admitted that this was a mistake, which he had tried to conceal by destroying documents and fabricating evidence. In court last Friday, Fairey said that he was ashamed of these actions, and his lawyer, Daniel Gitner, stated that his client “cooperated fully” with the government and took “full responsibility” for his actions.
The artist could face up to six months in jail, as much as a year of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $5,000. Sentencing is set for July 16.