What is the future for art and ideas in an age when practically anything can be copied, pasted, downloaded, sampled, and re-imagined?
LIVE from the NYPL and WIRED Magazine kick off the Spring 2009 season with a spirited discussion of the emerging remix culture.
Our guides through this new world--who will take us from Jefferson's Bible to Andre the Giant to Wikipedia--will be Lawrence Lessig, author of Remix, founder of Creative Commons, and one of the leading legal scholars on intellectual property issues in the Internet age; acclaimed street artist Shepard Fairey, whose iconic Obama "HOPE" poster was recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery; and cultural historian Steven Johnson, whose new book, The Invention of Air, argues that remix culture has deep roots in the Enlightenment and among the American founding fathers.
Shepard Fairey shot to national fame as the graphic artist behind a 2008 iconic poster of Barack Obama, a portrait labeled simply "HOPE" and in a style that could be described as Andy Warhol meets Socialist Realism.
Fairey, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992, was already well known among graffiti artists and fans, thanks to one of Fairey's early works of "guerilla" art, an impromptu stencil design based on an ad for Andre the Giant, a professional wrestler.
Fairey made stickers of the image in the late '80s, along with the scrawl "Andre the Giant has a posse," and the image went viral, spreading far and wide through urban America, on street signs, billboards and walls. He later adapted the image and added the word "obey." Mixing left-wing politics with "appropriated" images and bold graphic design, Fairey now works as a fine artist and advertising designer, with a gallery in Los Angeles and business ventures that dip into publishing, fashion and urban sports (skateboarding).
Supporters call what he does appropriation art, but detractors call it plagiarism, and Fairey's success has put him in the middle of a legal and artistic debate about who owns what when it comes to images in the public. With permission from the staff of Obama's presidential campaign, Fairey began distributing the "HOPE" image in January of 2008.
A year later, with Obama in the White House, Fairey's poster was officially displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Around the same time the Associated Press declared Shepard's poster was based on a 2006 photo taken by the AP's Manny Garcia and they should get credit and compensation.
Fairey filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the AP, arguing he didn't owe them. Fairey has appeared in the documentary films Andre the Giant Has a Posse (by Helen Stickler, first distributed in 1997) and Bomb It! (2007), and his work has been documented in the book Supply and Demand.
Paul Holdengräber is the Director of LIVE from the NYPL.
Steven Johnson is the author of The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good for You, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Cities, Software and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate and The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From was a finalist for the 800CEORead award for best business book of 2010, and was ranked as one of the year’s best books by The Economist.
He is also the founder of several influential websites, including FEED, Plastic, and, currently, outside.in. His most recent book is Where Good Ideas Come From.
Lawrence Lessig is one of our most respected voices on the legal, political, and cultural implications of digital technology. Currently the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, Lessig founded Creative Commons in 2001 to reboot our antiquated copyright system. He is also the director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the founder of Rootstrikers, an activist network working to reduce the influence of money in politics. In 2000, as a professor at Stanford, he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society. Lessig is the author of numerous books, including Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace; The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World; Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy; and Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Association, he has received numerous honors and was named one of the world’s “Top 50 Visionaries” by Scientific American.
Stanford law professor and copyright activist Lawrence Lessig examines the evolution and importance of the community's role in creating remixes and mashups, and ponders the fate of the participatory medium in the face of out-of-date copyright laws.