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‘Hope’ artist sues AP over image copyright

Shepard Fairey, the artist whose “Hope” image of President Barack Obama was added to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, sued the Associated Press over the news company’s copyright challenge to the artwork.

Fairey seeks to “vindicate” himself after the AP earlier accused him of copying the AP photograph on which the artist’s red-white-and-blue image of Obama is based, according to a complaint filed Monday in federal court in New York.

The Los Angeles-based artist and his company, Obey Giant Art, used the AP photograph “as a visual reference for a highly transformative purpose,” according to the complaint. “Fairey altered the original with new meaning, new expression and new messages.”

The photograph that inspired the disputed Fairey image was taken by Mannie Garcia in April 2006 at the National Press Club’s panel discussion about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, according to the complaint.

Fairey seeks a court order that the image, created in January 2008, doesn’t violate AP’s copyright. According to the complaint, Fairey’s work is protected by the Fair Use statute, which allows limited use of copyrighted material to make original works of art.

The AP, which claimed on Feb. 4 that Fairey’s image infringed the company’s copyright, threatened to sue Fairey by today, according to the complaint. The AP said it used “special technology” to determine the image’s original source.

Fairey’s work, often found in the form of street art, focuses on social and political subjects with media including screen prints and stencil paintings, according to the complaint. Earlier this month, the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston opened a 20-year retrospective of Fairey’s work.

Paul Colford, a spokesman for closely held AP, declined to comment.