Shepard Fairey hugged his lawyers, was kissed by wife and shook hands with friends and supporters after his sentence was pronounced.
The government had said in a presentence memorandum that Fairey, 42, should serve some time for destroying documents and fabricating others in a civil lawsuit he brought against The Associated Press in 2009. No prison term, it said, would send a “terrible message” to others who might engage in similar conduct.
“After spending a great amount of time, energy and legal effort, all of us at The Associated Press are glad this matter is finally behind us,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “We hope this case will serve as a clear reminder to all of the importance of fair compensation for those who gather and produce original news content.”
Prosecutors had told U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan that Fairey had “both an ideological and financial motive” to alter evidence in his favor after basing his poster on one of the AP’s photographs. They said he did so over several weeks, engaging in behavior that “cannot be dismissed as remotely impulsive or the product of a moment of bad judgment.”
“This was not a mere failure to preserve documents,” the government wrote. “This was the intentional destruction of evidence and the intentional manufacture of false evidence. The defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he created the fake documents and sought to destroy the deleted documents.”
They noted that revenues at three companies he controlled doubled from roughly $3 million in 2007 to $6 million in 2009 while he was honored repeatedly, including being chosen to design the official poster of Obama’s 2009 inauguration and commissioned to create the cover image of Obama for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year, which was displayed in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
Defense attorneys argued that a prison term was not warranted, noting that the misdemeanor charge carries a potential of only six months in prison.
They said Fairey is contrite and noted that he settled his civil case with the AP on unfavorable terms that included sanctions. The government outlined in its court papers that the deal required Fairey to pay the AP $1.6 million, with an insurance company contributing about $450,000 of that amount.
In their sentencing memorandum, defense lawyers described Fairey as a devoted husband and father of two young daughters who runs companies that employ almost 30 people and who serves as the creative force behind a clothing line that employs another 80 people.
They called his crime the “worst mistake of his life” and said he altered evidence “not to better his chances of winning the lawsuit or to enrich himself, but out of fear of embarrassment.”
The lawyers wrote that Fairey, who has diabetes, has already suffered “significant damage to his reputation,” adding that an Internet search of his name “now produces results not just about his artistic and civic accomplishments, but also many web sites degrading him for his misconduct.”