Saturday, August 8, 2009

Obama Image Stirs Legal Battle on Pot Poster

-- With buzz about the Obama Joker poster still in the air, another reworking of the president's image is causing a stir.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has produced a psychedelic, '60s-style poster featuring a photo of college freshman "Barry" Obama smoking. Above his super-bad Panama hat is the slogan: Yes We Cannabis.

Artist Sonia Sanchez created the poster for NORML's annual conference using a picture taken at Occidental College in 1980 by the future president's classmate Lisa Jack. In the original photo, Obama is holding a real cigarette to his lips. Sanchez tweaked the smoking material to fit her theme, but otherwise the image is unchanged.

The pro-pot group never sought Jack's permission, even though it is selling the poster as well as giving it away to conference-goers, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post.

Jack told the Post she's "very irritated" and does not want her work, which is on display at a Los Angeles gallery, used in this way.

NORML believes it's protected by "fair use" rules, but it's far from a clear-cut case. Ashby Jones writes on The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog it "just might take the cake as Best Fair-Use Smackdown Ever."

In this case, all the players are known. The Obama Joker poster that has gone viral on the Internet in recent days is more mysterious. No one seems to know who created the image, in which Obama's face is painted like Heath Ledger's character in 'The Dark Knight.' The original photo was taken from a TIME magazine cover. The posters first appeared in Los Angeles.
"The Obama-as-Joker picture can be viewed as the evil twin" of Shepard Fairey's famous 'Hope' poster, David Ng observes in the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster blog.

Fairey, a Los Angeles artist, based his iconic red, white and blue image on an Associated Press photo. The AP is suing Fairey, accusing him of violating its copyright. Fairey is countersuing, claiming he changed the original picture enough to be covered under "fair use" as a work of art.

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