Pixel Ownership and the Associated Press

What is wrong with the Associated Press?  In the example below, the AP is making an insane claim of a photographic image Copyright violation against the Obama poster artist.

On buttons, posters and Web sites, the image was everywhere during last year’s presidential campaign: A pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Manny Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.

We side with the artist and not the AP.  We won’t even use the “Fair Use” argument to knock some common sense into the issue because that’s too obvious and too easy.  We’ll make a more sticky, ethereal, argument against the Associated Press’ claim:

Where does Pixel Ownership begin and end?  Is the legal chain of ownership forever forged in the original, pixilated, image and that claim then extends into a separate artist’s mind as a unique example of interpreted meaning and significance; and does that claim then also poke into any author’s textual rendering of the pixilated image describing the original?

In merely thinking about the original image — are we violating the AP’s Copyright by reconstructing the contents in our mind’s eye for personal pleasure and the profit from a public square debate?

If the AP goes after the poster artist, then isn’t the AP also required to go after the descriptive author and the inveterate thinker?

Or are words and thoughts somehow less temporally caustic than an artist’s color palate?

The answer to all this silly wondering is that the Associated Press has zero enforceable Copyright infringement claim against any and all of us — and the fact that they’ve made such a goofy, public, spectacle of their original Obama photograph now only guarantees that their sacred image will continue to be copied, propagated, written about, exposed and published on the web and in our minds forevermore and there’s nothing they can do about it except to accept the defeat of their wrongful determination of how memes are created and shared.

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David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an author, lyricist, playwright, publisher, editor, actor, director and producer for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at BolesBooks.com | Earn the world with BolesUniversity.com | Get a script doctored at ScriptProfessor.com | Touch American Sign Language mastery at HardcoreASL.com

6 thoughts on “Pixel Ownership and the Associated Press

  1. I laughed out loud when I read the initial report about this – how could they be so blindingly naive to think that they will actually win in this case?

  2. I think they think they can by bullying, Gordon. The law sort of requires them to do this to protect their brand and Copyright, but the bull was let loose from the pen a loooooooong time ago on this one!

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