Boston Police Department
Their overzealous pursuit of Shepard Fairey is an embarrassment
Under the law, street artists who use public and private property without permission are criminals; their art, vandalism. It would be well beyond the scope of the Muzzle Awards to try to rewrite the law and hand out our coveted statuettes on the basis of how we wish the world could be.
Nevertheless, the BOSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT has earned a Muzzle for overzealousness that went way beyond the call of public duty. Last February, police arrested the celebrated street artist Shepard Fairey on his way to an event at the Institute of Contemporary Art, which was hosting an exhibition of his work (the Phoenix was a sponsor). The arrest was clearly a publicity stunt, based on old warrants. As Fairey was quoted as saying afterward, the timing "was designed to create as much inconvenience for me and the museum as possible."
That wasn't the only lesson Fairey received about freedom of expression during the past year. He and the Muzzle-worthy Associated Press are involved in a preposterous legal battle over Fairey's now-iconic "Hope" poster of Barack Obama, which is based on an AP photo. As in the case of J.D. Salinger (above), Fairey's poster is a "transformative" use of the photo protected by the long-established fair-use exception to copyright laws.
Perhaps the AP case will help Fairey see the light in his own Salingeresque case against an artist named Baxter Orr, whom Fairey is suing for Orr's parody of Fairey's famous image of the late professional wrestler Andre the Giant. Orr is relying on exactly the same fair-use doctrine as Fairey. Fairey should back off.
Still, it's the Boston Police — the recipients of several Muzzles over the years — who are most deserving of criticism, not only because of their grandstanding but because of the weakness of their case. After Fairey contended that he wasn't even in Boston on the dates alleged in the complaint, prosecutors dropped many of the charges against him.
Fairey's arrest amounted to harassment, and was a self-inflicted blow to a city whose reputation is already none too welcoming of artists.
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