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What Type Of Work Is Protected Under US Copyright law? An example Of A Recent Copyright Infringement Case

Title 17 of the United States Code includes the Copyright Law of the United States. Title 17 defines what type of work is protected under the Copyright Law. Under Title 17, owners whose works are tangible, meaning that they may be expressed in writing, pictures, physical acts, and sound recordings have exclusive rights to their work and they mus. Title 17 also makes it clear that copyright protection does not extend to intangible things such as ideas or concepts.

Associated Press v. Fairey

Recently, there have been several copyright infringement cases that have played out in the media.  In fact, the media was actually a party to one of these cases, Associated Press v. Fairey. In 2008, artist Shephard Fairey created what is perhaps the single most memorable image of President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. The image of the then presidential hopeful deep in thought, tinted in a patriotic red, white, and blue and complete with the word “hope” written at the bottom, soon became a moving symbol of the Obama candidacy.  Fairey’s image was plastered all over Obama’s campaign paraphernalia as well as the media, earning Fairey a decent amount of fame and money in the process.

The original AP picture taken by photographer, Mannie Garcia (left) and the altered version of the picture by Shephard Fairey as used in the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign (right)

The only problem (and it soon became a big one) was that the picture on which Fairey based his work was originally taken by Associated Press photographer, Mannie Garcia. Fairey never asked permission to use the picture nor did he credit the Associated Press for using it.  Soon after Fairey’s picture became widespread, the Associated Press sued Fairey for copyright infringement and demanded compensation for Fairey’s use of the work.  While the case was settled out of court, this case created a lot of discourse around the value of work in these copyright battles. It’s unlikely that Garcia’s work could have ever reached the level of fame it did, if not for Fairey’s alteration of it. Yet, it is widely agreed that Fairey should have at least credited either Garcia or the Associated Press for it. This case brought the importance of crediting an original source of a licensed work to the legal forefront.

As illustrated above, it can often be difficult to determine whether or not your work is protected by copyright laws. If you believe that your original work was misused by someone without your permission, you should contact an intellectual property attorney in order to determine whether you may have an actionable copyright infringement claim.