Furor Over an Obama Puff Piece
It was only a matter of time before someone combined a certain memorable image of a young future president with a jokey twist on his campaign slogan ... to come up with a message that Barack Obama definitely did not approve.
The folks at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws got there first. For their annual conference poster, they took an old photo of cool-dude college freshman Obama puffing away -- on a regular cigarette, mind you -- and tweaked it just ever so slightly to fit their message: "Yes We Cannabis."
Think it might be a problem for the president (who opposes legalization)? It's really a problem for the photographer. Lisa Jack, an Obama classmate at Occidental College, snapped the image in 1980, one in a series of photos that never saw the light of day until she debuted them in Time's 2008 Person of the Year issue. She had no idea her photo had been appropriated by NORML until we told her Tuesday.
"They do not have my permission," said Jack, a psychology professor in Minnesota. These photos "are absolutely not to be used in this way. ... I really made a grand effort to do this properly, and I'm very irritated. If I'd wanted these to be used for political purposes, I'd have sold them to Hillary years ago."
NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre cheerfully acknowledged the lift by artist Sonia Sanchez, who summoned the psychedelic aesthetic of '60s rock posters. "With very little adulteration, she placed what appears to be a cannabis cigarette" in the president's hand, St. Pierre said. But she made few other changes: Obama "almost made the photograph for us."
Everyone who attends the September conference in San Francisco will get a poster; NORML is also selling them on the Web ($25 for an 18-by-24-inch with St. Pierre's autograph, $15 without). Can they do that? St. Pierre admits they didn't get permission, but "our lawyers thought it was adulterated enough to comply with the fair use laws."
We'll see. Shepard Fairey made more dramatic changes to the Obama photo he turned into the now-famous "HOPE" collage -- but he's still embroiled in bitter litigation with the Associated Press, which owns the original image. The AP accused him in federal court of "blatant copying." And yes, Jack has already called the lawyers for Getty Images, which oversees her photo's copyright.
Jack, whose photos now have a gallery show in L.A., grudgingly admits "it's really cool" that the images are already iconic enough to steal. She'd love to see Fairey do a work-up on them -- with permission, of course.
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