Can the US pot-smokers lobby take a photograph of Barack Obama smoking a cigarette, tweak it to make it appear as if he's smoking a joint, slap it on the poster for its annual conference, and call it fair use? Seattle-based Getty Images says no, and sent a cease and desist letter to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws this morning (full disclosure: I'm a member of NORML's board). The Washington Post reported yesterday that the photographer, Lisa Jack, who took the photo circa 1980, is in a tizzy.
"They do not have my permission," Jack told the WaPo. 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."
But Keith Stroup, NORML's founder and legal counsel, says the poster is exempt from copyright laws because it qualifies as "parody and satire" of Jack's original photo (left). Today Stroup assembled a team of four attorneys with copyright expertise who will represent the nonprofit, which is preparing to send back a letter back to Getty Images stating that "our lawyers advise us that we are on firm ground in what we have done," he says. NORML may also ask a court for a declaratory judgment.
Regardless of how the case settles, the image (which is a little hippie dippy for my tastes) is getting more exposure than ever. "AOL is asking if they can run it on the front page," says Stroup. The group won't give permission, he says; however, "Once it's out there, they can report it as news."