One hot big issue generating buzz is artist Shepard Fairey's use of an AP photo as the base to remake the photo for his famous Obama poster. I write a lot about the postmodern trend of iterations -- remakes and reuse and remixes of culture artifacts. Fairey's attorney says that it is a fair use appropriation. AP says Fairey stole the photo and violated copyrights. Stay tuned.
Fairey's attorney, Anthony Falzone, is the executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a lecturer at the Stanford Law School, one of the places where copyright has been explored (Lawrence Lessig's work on creative commons copyright was initiated while he was at Stanford).
Appropriation in the digital world has gone out the roof, but appropriation and the ownership of creative works is as old as time. Perhaps the Obama Poster is the most famous example of art appropriation. Kottke notes: Fairey's use of the picture are well within the parameters of "fair use". His transformative use of the image - both in flipping and re-orienting it, adding jacket and tie and the "O" Obama logo, and converting it to his block print style make it consistent with all legal precedents for use.
Richard Prince is an appropriation artist, as is Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Warhol used iconic images and remade them. In 2009 Prince once again has been sued for appropriating the work of another artist - In 2005 Prince used a photo of a Marlboro Man and it was auctioned for over $1.2 million. A copyright lawyer notes that this area of "appropriating and manipulating images has become a widespread phenomenon. His appropriation may foreshadow the copyright battles of the future, and a weakening of the visual artist's copyright."
At issue is who owns art and who profits from the ownership? Stay tuned. More to come.