| When artist Shepard Fairey engaged in a legal battle with the Associated Press over his iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, many lawyers across America formed an opinion on the case. Suffolk Law fourth-year evening student Jo-Na Williams went a step further. In an article for the September/October issue of Landslide, the American Bar Association’s intellectual property law magazine, Williams laid out both sides of the case, cited relevant precedents, and argued that the case has the potential to yield a landmark decision.
“I am extremely interested in artists’ rights and fair use,” said Williams. “Artists can now be their own commodities, which means they need to have a better understanding of business and their legal obligations under copyright and trademark law.”
Fairey, who is also known for his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” street art campaign, based his Obama “Hope” poster on a 2006 photograph taken by AP freelance photographer Mannie Garcia. After the AP demanded Fairey pay a licensing fee for utilizing the photo, he filed suit claiming fair use, an action that has resulted in a series of counterclaims.
“When I read about the case, it caused me to rethink my own ideas about which artists are protected under the law of copyright,” said Williams, a Michigan native and University of Michigan graduate. “Does Shepard have a valid fair use defense, or was he infringing? Who owns the copyright, the photographer or the AP? The case is so multilayered, and that was very intriguing.”
In her article, Williams drew out key points from prior cases about fair use, from a Supreme Court decision on 2 Live Crew’s use of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” to a case regarding the excerpting of former president Gerald Ford’s memoirs. She concluded by writing that Fairey v. Associated Press “could be crucial to the future direction of copyright law.”
“It’s a complex case that could eventually change the way the way we look at the fair use defense,” said Williams. “We have access to information on a scale we haven’t had before, and the law will never develop as quickly as the Internet. I hope to help artists understand how the law can assist them and not be a hindrance to their creative freedom.”
Williams is president of the Sports and Entertainment Law Association at Suffolk Law and served as a student editor on the ABA’s Annual Review of Intellectual Property Law Developments in 2008. She plans to practice arts and entertainment law upon graduation and appreciates the recognition afforded her by the Landslide piece.
“It’s validating that the ABA thought my writing could be published and read by practitioners all over the country,” Williams said.