Washington Post: Furor Over an Obama Puff Piece

From today’s Washington Post’s Reliable Sources:

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.

A brief history about the series of Obama photos is found at The Huffington Post.

0 thoughts

  1. This is exhibit A as to why NORML is ineffective. Try to get people to go along with you by embarrassing them if they don’t. It just doesn’t work in politics. Look at the 70s. Progress was being made, then the Carter admin didn’t move fast enough. So you try to embarrass them and you get…. Reagan and the War on drugs.
    You don’t win by giving common enemies ammo against potential allies – if anything this makes it HARDER for Obama to move towards legalization.

  2. Well said #44 “A”….I can start to sense just a little bit of fear starting to show; hopefully we still have time…they’re starting to squirm…wiggle a little, especially as “we the people” get more and more exposed to their $$$/banking scam, in which the country “we the people” just lost trillions to these on/off shore “crooksters.” Please see “OWNERSHIP OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE” http://www.land.netonecom.net/tlp/ref/federal_reserve.shtml. These are the people in charge of our monetary policy. Recognize the different countries…people’s names…familiar? Think anybody in that Fed reserve is interested in ending Cannabis prohibition? Naaaaaaaah…I think they will support big pharma, agriculture, synthetic industries, etc., over anything for “we the people”. Keeps their phony monapolistic capitalism going. Look at all the new rules/regulations/laws trying to be passed by our congress listening to all the powerful lobbyist from those industries they represent, not “we the people”. Unfortunately…as they start to sense fear/loss of their control/power…looking at history, we all need to be fearful of the possible coming of “depression, dictatorship, and world war three” as these control freaks start to loose their grip on power…cause looking at history…this is what they do.

  3. I live w/ chronic/acute pain on a daily basis. It’s disappointing to read the dialogue & realize it has deteriorated into playground back-biting. This is serious business to me and I linked to this site to interact w/ people who understand the ramifications of legalization for others like me.

  4. NORML is pure genius when it comes to inexpensive, effectice Public Relations and marketing. Hell, they have had to be to help get us this far.
    You see, here not only do we get a really cool poster but, we get also get tens of thousands of dollars of free press…
    **This poster and story are on the front page of yahoo right now!

  5. I’m a medical cannabis activist. That said, I am also an artist. Unless the photo was in public domain, the image is copyrighted and belongs to the artist. Therefore it should not be used for commercial gain without her express permission.
    [Editor’s note: Thanks for being a medical cannabis activists! Your legal analysis in incorrect. Political parody is covered under the fair use doctrine and NORML is a non-commercial organization. It is interesting how no activists cared when NORML used fair use laws to parody George Bush 1.0 and 2.0….]

  6. How about making a poster of Obama,G.W. Bush and Bill Clinton sharing a big fat two paper dobbie. After all they have all admitted to smoking cannabis.

  7. Great article. I especially like Norml’s honesty about borrowing Obama’s image from the photog. Her photo’s are garnering some media and I anticipate she will benefit even more from the exposure in the future. As far as Norml’s decision to use the photo with the classy artwork by Sanchez is nothing short of brilliant. I love the counter culture poster look with striking contrtasting colors that shoot out at you like flame. I WANT ONE! It is sure to draw much attention to Norml’s upcoming conference. Giancarlo

  8. I don’t know, I think it’s a silly idea to use this kind of poster if it’s going to cause an issue.
    If we want the appropriate people to become more open-minded about legalizing marijuana, it probably isn’t going to be a great idea to make them angry or to show them that we have no respect for them. That’s probably how it will be taken.

  9. Are the posters still going to be handed out at the SF Convention? Seeing how it’s not available “for sale” anymore.
    [Editor’s note: Lawyers are currently deciding such…Any announcement of settlement, or lawsuit, will be made publicly.]

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