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Furor Over an Obama Puff Piece


Student Barack Obama in a 1980 photo shoot at Occidental College. (Lisa Jack/Getty Images)

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."


The official poster for the 2009 NORML Conference, designed by artist Sonia Sanchez. (Courtesy of NORML)Enlarge Image

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.


By The Reliable Source  |  August 5, 2009; 1:01 AM ET
 
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Comments

Fair use.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | August 5, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Slimy.

Posted by: Pupster | August 5, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing "fair" about stealing. I don't understand why anyone would think that it's okay to steal and profit from something that someone else created.

Posted by: Auger | August 5, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

What an absolute hoot. I reckon there will be considerable wailing about the unfairness of the poster; by the same people who thought that Tina Fey's trashing of Palin was so doggone funny.

Humor is absolutely one of the most effective tools ordinary people have to combat dictatorships - think Russia, Czechoslovakia and Poland during the USSR's domination of their countries.

Posted by: biparis | August 5, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

What an absolute hoot. I reckon there will be considerable wailing about the unfairness of the poster; by the same people who thought that Tina Fey's trashing of Palin was so doggone funny.

Posted by: biparis
---------------------------------------------

The issue is not fair or unfair, it is theft. Images altered for satire are protected under the first amendment (ex. 'edited' images used by the Daily show, etc.), this was for profit which is quite another thing. Your agenda is not quite applicable to this topic.

And as for Tina Fey, she was at her funniest when she was quoting Palin verbatim. If it's trashing someone to simply repeat what they said, that should give you pause.

Posted by: jayjordan | August 5, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

www.feedyourfaith.com Cheslea Noble Kirk Cameron's wife is not feeling well. Prayers

Posted by: marcy20046 | August 5, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Smoking pot is about all we know of Obama's daze at Occidental.

Posted by: angie12106 | August 5, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Get over it. Just look how this very paper's Anne Telnaes creates exaggerated caricatures of politicians (usually Republicans) while using their own voice-overs in generally complete fictional scenarios to portray something consistent with her own point of view. And this paper, and the Daily Show for that matter, are for profit.

Posted by: RambleOn | August 5, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

The issue is not fair or unfair, it is theft. Images altered for satire are protected under the first amendment (ex. 'edited' images used by the Daily show, etc.), this was for profit which is quite another thing. Your agenda is not quite applicable to this topic.

And as for Tina Fey, she was at her funniest when she was quoting Palin verbatim. If it's trashing someone to simply repeat what they said, that should give you pause.

Posted by: jayjordan | August 5, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

--------------------

Really? Satire and for-profit have to be separate from one another? Is the Daily Show not trying to make a profit?

You don't think "Yes we cannabis" is satire?

Posted by: ghokee | August 5, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

PEOPLE... Please, this is not theft at all. This is FAIR USE and nothing else.
Please see:
http://stash.norml.org/obama-photographer-irritated-over-norml-yes-we-cannabis-poster/

Norml is a non-profit organization. And non-profit groups ARE STILL allowed to sell stuff. DUH. They just don't sell it for very much, because it's non-profit.

It was made as criticism/comment, and as a JOKE/satire/parody, by a non-profit organization. That is the VERY DEFINITION of fair use.

Stop being ignorant morons. And stop twisting the facts, just because you don't like Norml. -_- Idiots.
That's what this is, idiots who hate norml, twisting reality and changing the definition of fair use, to bad mouth norml.

Posted by: OkinKun | August 5, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I had this seven months ago:

"I'm a Midnight Toker" -- Getting Stoned with Barry O

http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/truth_slant/im_a_midnight_t.php

Washington Post Late to the Party Yet Again: "I'm a Midnight Toker" -- Getting Stoned with Barry O @ AMERICAN DIGEST

Posted by: vanderleun | August 6, 2009 12:16 AM | Report abuse

"There is nothing "fair" about stealing. I don't understand why anyone would think that it's okay to steal and profit from something that someone else created."

Are you referring to NORML, or Shepard Fairey.

Posted by: WPreader11 | August 6, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

No matter how much I may support NORML's goals, I can no longer support an organization that steals from artists. This does not count as 'fair use'... it is clearly promotional.

Posted by: coyotl | August 6, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

It's called 'satire' you stupid 'artists' and falls under fair use. You don't like your art being made fun of? Then keep it in the basement and don't sell it.

Artists who complain about satire should have their works burned.

Posted by: bug45 | August 7, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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