The ordeal over Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope image has turned a new corner when today the LA-based artist pled guilty to one count of criminal contempt for destroying documents, manufacturing evidence and other misconduct in civil litigation against the Associated Press regarding his world-renowned “Hope” poster.

The press release from the US Attorney’s Office quotes Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara saying:

“As he admitted today, Shepard Fairey, an artist associated with an iconic image from the 2008 presidential campaign, went to extreme lengths to obtain an unfair and illegal advantage in his civil litigation, creating fake documents and destroying others in an effort to subvert the civil discovery process. The justice system – civil and criminal – depends on the integrity of lawyers and non-lawyers alike to follow the rules. Those who break the rules risk sanctions, including, in certain cases, criminal prosecution.”

The case is based on a series of event in 2009, when Fairey initiated litigation against the AP in an attempt to prove his use of an AP photograph was protected by fair use. Fairey alleged that he had used a 2006 AP photograph of Obama and actor George Clooney. It turns out Fairey was lying as he had used another AP image from the same event. In order to justify his claim, the artist created multiple false and fraudulent documents and attempted to delete multiple electronic files, which were later discovered.

With the latest guilty plea, Fairey faces a maximum term of six months in prison and a maximum term of supervised release of one year. He also faces a fine of the greatest of $5,000, or twice the gross pecuniary gain derived from the offense or twice the gross pecuniary loss to the victims. He will be sentenced on July 16.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

16 replies on “Shepard Fairey Pleads Guilty to Contempt Charge in Manhattan District Court”

      1. You’re right, there is absolutely nothing that looks live traced about the poster image at all. I should point out that I made this in about 5 minutes.  Sure, Fairey made edits to the trace but who cares?  He steals the work of photographers for a living and basically runs them through a filter.   

        1. Photographers steal people’s likeness for a living. They should pay the people whose reputations and newsworthiness they leech off of and in many cases help to destroy. Sure they run the image through Photoshop but who cares? Anyone can do that.

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