Lawrence Lessig Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson Event at NYPL

I attended an event at the New York Public Library tonight titled: REMIX: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in The Hybrid Economy, with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson (see information about each speaker at the bottom of the post ) – I originally found out about this event from Boing Boing


Steven Johnson is talking first about the freedom of information and how technology and innovation comes from connecting ideas rather than building walled gardens. Lawrence Lessig starts off by repeating much of the same talk he gave at NYU last November 9th (my birthday, actually).

So….wasn’t Shepard the first artist to use appropriated photos of political figures to make art?

Remix wasn’t something Fairey practiced alone, a lot of re mixing was going on by the news media, grassroots and even the Obama Campaign. We miss what is extra ordinary about re mixing content if we focus on just the political campaign.

The point is that re mixing are conversations, but that is not new. What is new is the way the LAW treats re mixed material. What should the Law regulate re mixed material? Copyright law handles the remix. Do we have a law that presumes you are free to remix material or a law that requires you to get permission before remixing anything.

Corrupted Systems – we need to change this as we can’t stop remixing of material, we can only criminalize it, and is that what we really want?

Shepard Fairey comes on stage, says he started doing remixing in 1989 with a sticker campaign on Andre The Giant. Control of public space and the sense of wonderment around it. Get people to question – you can put out anything into public space if you pay for it as an Ad, but if it’s for free, your treated as a criminal.

Barack Obama poster, Shepard Fairey wanted to show the Manny Garcia photo, and litigation followed (see AP Out of Cash, Wants Shepard Fairey’s Money) – here’s an except from the Jossip article:

Approximately seven months since it first hit the streets, Shepard Fairey’s picture of Barack Obama is under scrutiny for copyright infringement. You see, the Associated Press claims Fairey lifted his image off a picture of our president that they owned the rights to, which, fair enough…but why wait until now, when the election is over and the red, white, and blue picture already has a thousand imitators of its own?

Simply enough, money.

The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation…AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey’s attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution.”

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There is so many ways an image derives it’s power, there are a lot of variables to consider. The spoof of Shepard Fairey remix of even those who are critical, give his original remix more power. No one had created an iconic image of Obama before; the strength of the image is the strength of support for Obama.

Yet, Obama’s image remix was one of the safest one Shepard Fairey made, sort of strange there was such a fuss about it. Icons have an emotional connection but once having accepted it, people look for a rational explanation to hang on top of the emotional.

Grass roots image, for the people and by the people. Shepard Fairey is high profile and while he tried to pay AP for the rights but AP wanted damages and he decided to fight. It’s a case by case basis, but if his images are used for communication, he’s fine with it. But it’s important to allow for creativity while stopping abuse, but too many companies are controlled by lawyers who are treating remixing as a religious issue.

What is the Daily Show, if not the most powerful political commentary of America we have?

Lawrence Lessig refers to how Barack Obama and Al Gore inspired him, as he focused on how money is paying Idiotic Results. What are the thoughts for the New Administration? Do we have a sense things will get better? Obama has a lot he’s facing, and he’s trying to stabilizing the country and world, before taking on some of the other issues.

However, Obama he not, according to Lawrence Lessig given any indication he will reform the way Washington works. Bipartisanship is part of the problem, is the problem. Shepard, however, is looking forward to supporting something, for a change, though he agrees with Lessig, overall.

My takeaway: we need to have  freedom to use imagery others have taken, such as the press, or else we will not have content to make good commentary up, and our free speech will be limited, perhaps violated.


1. What is the process to do a remix (re Charlie Rose show)? A lively discussion is going on around this. Do we know what “original” means? There is a lot creativity in remixing content and it’s hard work.  Here’s that video, by the way – it’s the first time I’ve seen it – very creative and a lot more fun, I might add, than the Charlie Rose show, itself:

2. Is there a problem with corporations making Robotic Decisions supported by lawyers?

Shepard Fairey was surprised with Associated Press response – not only would they not let him buy the rights, AP wanted damages, as well.

Here’s information about each speaker tonight supplied by the New York Public Library-

About Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey, often described as a street artist, first began to appear in the news for wheat pasting (adorning public spaces with the artist’s own posters with a water and wheat mixture), sticker tagging, and the numerous accompanying arrests. His portrait of Barack Obama that came to symbolize the historic campaign of the president is now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. His artwork is also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A retrospective of Fairey’s work opened in February 2009 at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.

About Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is the author of The Ghost Map; Everything Bad Is Good for You; Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life; Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Cities, and Software; and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. He is also the founder of several influential websites, including FEED, Plastic, and, currently, His most recent book is The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America.

About Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Center for Internet and Society. He writes in the areas of constitutional law, contracts, and the law of cyberspace, especially as it affects copyright. Lessig was named one of Scientific American’s Top 50 Visionaries, for arguing “against interpretations of copyright that could stifle innovation and discourse online.” He is the author of Code v2, Free Culture, The Future of Ideas, and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. His most recent book is Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.

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