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Obama poster artist gets probation for evidence tampering

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Fri September 7, 2012
Artist Shepard Fairey stands in front of his image of U.S. President Barack Obama on January 17, 2009.
Artist Shepard Fairey stands in front of his image of U.S. President Barack Obama on January 17, 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shepard Fairey pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court in February
  • He also was ordered on Friday to pay $25,000 in fines in a dispute that dates to 2009
  • In his civil complaint, Fairey claimed to have used a photo of Obama and George Clooney

New York (CNN) -- The street artist who created the iconic red, white and blue Obama "Hope" posters in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election was sentenced Friday to two years' probation after tampering with evidence, prosecutors said.

Shepard Fairey pleaded guilty in February to criminal contempt of court for falsifying and destroying documents and coaching a witness while embroiled in a copyright infringement battle over his use of a now-famous image by The Associated Press that featured then-Sen. Barack Obama.

Fairey was ordered to pay $25,000 in fines in a dispute that dates back to 2009, when he brought a federal lawsuit against AP, claiming that he was entitled to use the image under the fair use doctrine, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The guidelines are a copyright exception allowing reproductions in specific instances of news reporting, commentary, teaching and other situations.

"I accept full responsibility for violating the court's trust by tampering with evidence during my civil case with (The) Associated Press, which, after my admitting to engaging in this conduct, led to this criminal case by the Southern District of New York," Fairey said in a written statement. "I accept the judge's sentence and look forward to finally putting this episode behind me."

Federal prosecutors said Fairey, 42, lied about which AP image of Obama he used as inspiration for the posters, which were stamped with the words "Hope" and "Progress."

"After spending a great amount of time, energy and legal effort, all of us at The Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us," said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. "We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content."

In his civil complaint, Fairey claimed to have used a photo taken of Obama and actor George Clooney by an AP photographer in 2006, though he actually used a different AP image -- a close-up of the current president, prosecutors said.

The federal court found Fairey had both destroyed documents that would prove that he had not used the photo of Obama and Clooney, and created false ones in an attempt to back the claims he made in his complaint.

"My wrong-headed actions, born out of a moment of fear and embarrassment, have not only been financially and psychologically costly to myself and my family, but also helped to obscure what I was fighting for in the first place -- the ability of artists everywhere to be inspired and freely create art without reprisal," Fairey said.

According to court documents, Fairey and AP settled the civil suit in January 2011 for $1.6 million.

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