Initially, the beef was over whether Fairey owed money to the Associated Press for using one of its photos to create his red, white and blue poster image. Fairey fired back with a lawsuit, claiming that "fair use" entitles him to do almost anything he wants with almost anyone's photos without paying royalties.
Fairey has made the fair use argument before to defend his habit of taking photographs, altering them and turning them into lucrative designs. He sold Obama "HOPE" posters with his signature for up to $500 each. Corporations have paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars for branding and design.
In Fairey's legal battle with the Associated Press, a question of exactly which photo he appropriated became the focus of concern. When Fairey filed his lawsuit against the AP, he claimed he had used a photo taken by AP photographer Mannie Garcia. The AP insisted Fairey had used a different photo. According to Fairey, early on in the case he realized the AP was right. But he didn't come clean:
"In an attempt to conceal my mistake, I submitted false images and deleted other images," Fairey wrote on his website. "I sincerely apologize for my lapse in judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions, which were mine alone."
Nonetheless, he insists he shouldn't have to pay a dime to the AP, regardless of which photo he used. The AP says that if they win the case, they'll donate the proceeds to a relief fund for victims of natural disasters.
Fairey is in the middle of a two-year probation after pleading guilty to vandalism charges in Boston this summer. He was also forced to pay $2,000 to a graffiti removal organization.
Fairey first made a name for himself by canvassing Los Angeles with the now-famous "Obey" image of wrestler Andre the Giant.