OBEYing Fair Use

In my writing class, Professor Kalm mentioned the classic graphic Andre The Giant has a posse, later coined OBEY Giant. I have always been fascinated with that graphic. Maybe I channeled my inner-child as a 1980’s wrestling fan. Maybe I just really liked the Princess Bride. I knew the design was cool, so much so that I even had a T-shirt of the graphic in my teenage years. When I wore it in high school, many were perplexed. It wasn’t classified as a wrestling T-shirt, but almost a kind of art. Girls thought it was weird, but almost everyone I know has heard of the proclaimed “Eighth Wonder of The World.”

Creator Shepard Fairey’s Andre graphic was posted all over the world. It was the type of “word of mouth (for lack of a better term)” that graphics don’t see every day. The one thing I always wondered was if Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) ever sued Fairey for any copyright issues. After all, I’m sure the initial photo of Andre was property of the WWF. They did and this caused Fairey to stop using the name Andre The Giant and later modified the look of the graphic to what we now know as OBEY Giant.

Steal This Art

Fairey is often criticized for using copyrighted artwork into his own works and failing to provide credit for the work used. Graphic designer Baxter Orr did his own take on Fairey’s work, called Protect, with the Obey Giant face covered by a respiratory mask. Once he started selling prints as his own work, Orr received a cease-and-desist order from Fairey’s attorneys, telling him to pull Protect from sale because it violates Fairey’s trademark. Fairey threatened to sue, calling Orr a “bottom feeder” and “parasite.”

While I certainly enjoyed his designs, does Fairey really have the right to complain? After all, he did use photos of Andre the Giant and later Barack Obama that were not his. He used these photos to enhance his art and messaging. While Orr’s idea was uncreative, perhaps he felt the same in his intention. In the days of advanced technologies and people being empowered to remix songs and editing videos, can the same apply to art? Is this piracy? I think not and as American academic and political activist, Larry Lessig says, “creativity is being strangled by the law.” He goes on to say that the television and music that his generation had is now being created by today’s generation. The film, Steal This Film II, reiterates this thought process too. The read/write culture enables us to recreate media to say things differently. I do not see this as “stealing,” but expressing yourself through another person’s art. What if library’s decided not to let us take out books for writing papers and learning? What’s the point of creating them in the first place?

For profitable gain (which Orr did do), building your bank account off someone else’s creation is wrong. However, if you have a passion for what you do and are paying an homage to someone’s work, who are we to say who’s a parasite and uncreative? Did Shepard Fairey really intend on sending a message or did his tracing of an Andre the Giant photo catch lighting in a bottle that was interpreted differently by the masses? Did he intend on creating the OBEY graphic to make money? Maybe so, maybe not, but we remember it and it is still considered art.

Works Cited:

  • 1990s, The Early. “Andre the Giant Has a Posse.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obey_Giant>.
  • “Module 9 – The Search.” The Interactive Voice. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://interactivevoice.blogspot.com/2010/07/module-9-search.html>.
  • Steal This Film II. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www.stealthisfilm.com/>.
  • “Larry Lessig on Laws That Choke Creativity | Video on TED.com.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Web. 21 July 2010. <http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html>..
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9 Responses
  1. PhotogAndOp says:

    Nice points.

    I was not familiar with Andre the Giant has a Posse, but it’s intriguing. Your information is interesting and delves deeper into Andre not so much the man, but the graphic that started it all.

    Thanks for the info.

  2. admin says:

    I think Andre the Giant was such a larger than life (pardon the pun) man (I’ve heard stories of drinking 100 beers in one sitting and flipping over the car of a heckler of his), people gravitated towards him and perhaps whatever bigger message they took away from the graphic. It’s a really subjective piece of art (but isn’t a lot of art?).

    Thanks for the feedback, glad you found it interesting.

  3. Rigsby says:

    I think it is pretty brilliant what Orr did, he changed Andre possibly more than even Fairey ever did, all Fairey did was add OBEY, and at the time Orr made his parody Fairey and OBEY was everywhere so not only did he tell Fairey to shut the hell up with a mask covering andre, he told others to question the person (Shepard Fairey) telling you to question everything. I dont see how this is less creative than what Fairey originally did. Its an idea built on an idea that is built on an idea. Which I think is pretty creative if you take it for more than face value.

  4. PhotogAndOp says:

    I don’t know if I ever saw him wrestle (yes I went to a WWF match or two), his size was memorable. It doesn’t surprise me that he lives on through a graphic design or any other form of media.

  5. admin says:

    Rigsby,

    Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree with your point on the idea built on an idea, which is why I mentioned who are we to say what’s uncreative or not? I am a believer in recreating media to express different meaning. My gripe with Orr’s creativity is trying to make profit off it. Other than that, I can appreciate your interpretation of Orr’s piece.

  6. Rigsby says:

    “My gripe with Orr’s creativity is trying to make profit off it.” and you dont have a gripe with Shepard Fairey making millions off of Andre the Giant? Doesnt make sense, its two sides of the same coin.

  7. admin says:

    Rigsby,

    Great point, but I don’t think the original Andre the Giant has a Posse graphic was really intended as a way to make profit, it just caught on. Even Shepard Fairey referred to it as an accident. Once Fairey altered the image due to copyright issues and added OBEY, then, yes, it had an agenda that made profits for him.

    The piece started off as a spontaneous tracing of Andre and then developed into a profitable agenda, but Orr’s pieces (he’s done the same with Fairey’s Obama HOPE graphic changing it to DOPE) came off as a parody intended for profit (just check his site). Fairey did blatantly take pictures and create an idea around them. Orr took Fairey’s idea and did the opposite. While creative to an extent, it just doesn’t resonate with me as much.

    Difference of opinion is always welcome here, thanks for the dialogue.

  8. [...] I tweet, the more followers and blog reads I receive. I recently blogged about the relevance of the OBEY Giant artwork. I personally found the topic interesting (did I mention that I watched wrestling as a [...]

  9. [...] of mouth that was the OBEY Giant graphic, I wrote about the evolution and controversy surrounding the logo. If I was looking for an online portfolio to upload my designs, I posted about which sites worked [...]

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