Obama Poster Artist Guilty of Contempt

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 28, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you asked anyone what would land Shepard Fairey in jail, they would probably point to his graffiti. But alas, it isn't so. The street artist, who gained popularity with his red, white and blue Obama "Hope" poster,  has pleaded guilty to criminal contempt.

The conviction, which carries up to 6 months in jail, is likely to earn him a short stint behind bars. Fairey admitted to deleting evidence and lying to the court in a civil lawsuit he had brought against the Associated Press.

That lawsuit was a premature attempt to have his Hope poster declared an original work under copyright law, explains Reuters. The Associated Press countersued, asking the court to declare the poster an act of copyright infringement.

Originally, Shepard Fairey claimed the poster was based on a cropped photograph of Obama and George Clooney. Soon after filing the suit, he realized he had actually used an AP photo taken at the same event. Instead of talking to his lawyers, he chose to break the law.

As is common practice, the court had ordered both parties to trade documents. Fairey deleted the photos from his computer and then fabricated documents to hide his mistake, relates the Associated Press. He then found a witness who was willing to support his lies.

Criminal contempt is a punitive measure, designed to punish someone for egregious behavior in front of the court. Though the judge could have held Shepard Fairey in civil contempt and fined him, his actions warranted criminal sanctions. He disobeyed an order, lied to the court on numerous occasions, and undermined the entire case.

If the extreme nature of this conduct does not land Shepard Fairey in jail, it will be a big surprise.

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