Left: AP Photo/Manny Garcia, right: “HOPE” poster by Shepard Fairey (via Chicagoist)

The Associated Press has stepped into an ethical quagmire by disseminating a story that props up its own interests in the Shepard Fairey Obama “Hope” image copyright case. Today, the news service reported that a New York judge has suggested that the case “be settled quickly, saying it was likely the AP would win the case.”

In an obvious case of conflict of interest, AP’s story uses its soapbox to ricochet their opinionated report around the web. Since its publication, the AP story has appeared on dozens of news sites.

While the New York TimesArtsbeat blog and Arts section have reported the same story independent of AP, the news wire’s story did appear at the time of this post on dozens of news websites, including national publications (Huffington PostForbes.com) and local papers (Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco ChronicleVentura County Star).

AP’s gaffe has not gone unnoticed and the New York Observer made the issue very apparent in its coverage of the case, which was titled “AP Will Defeat Shepard Fairey, Reports AP,” and calls the AP’s story an “amusing conflict of interest” and wonders, “ … if it was worth filing a story with no updates except that things are still going well for the AP.”

The co-founder of Wooster Collective and an acquaintance of the Los Angeles-based artist, Marc D. Schiller, thinks the AP story is disturbing:

It’s incredibly frightening that the AP would use their own wire service to spread their own agenda in their suit with Shepard. While it may be legal, it’s unethical. Most people won’t connect the dots that the AP is writing about their own agenda, making it appear like they are neutral. They are not. It’s clear that the AP is not reporting on the case objectively. I think it’s important to see the full context of the judge’s quote.

The New York Observer ammended their initial story with a quote from Fairey’s lawyer, who thought the conclusion was far from obvious:

We don’t believe Judge Hellerstein’s statement in court today indicates a prejudgement of the case. We continue to believe there is a strong basis for fair use in this case, and Judge Hellerstein made clear that he hasn’t even begun to focus on the fair use issues.

After the initial version of their story, AP has since released a longer more nuanced piece about the case.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

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