The AP Goes After George Zimmerman for Copying a Photo for One of His Paintings


For the second time in one week, the Associated Press is making headlines of its own. Earlier in the week, the agency was praised by some and condemned by others when it decided to let a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer go over an edited photo, and now the AP is going after George Zimmerman over a painting he was selling.

George Zimmerman is, of course, the man who was charged and ultimately acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, and since his acquittal he has taken up painting. The issue is that one of his recent paintings seems to be a very Shepard Fairey-esque copy of an AP photo.

Both the painting and the picture — which was taken by AP freelancer Rick Wilson — depict Jacksonville-based prosecutor Angela Corey on the day she announced that Zimmerman would be charged with second degree murder. Here’s a closer look at both the picture and the painting:



The painting came to light when Zimmerman’s brother tweeted about it, saying that they were in negotiations with a buyer. That’s when the AP decided to act. The AP sent a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that no sale be made or, if a sale is made, that the agency be paid damages. Considering Zimmerman’s last painting sold on eBay for over $100K, damages could be substantial.

Since the letter, the back and forth has gotten… shall we say… less than civil. “George Zimmerman clearly directly copied an AP photo to create his painting of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey,” AP spokesman Paul Colford said in a statement. To which Zimmerman’s responded (via Twitter) with the following:

No worries AP, I’ll just take whatever U sue me for off your tab when I’m done suing you :-) Or… I could put out how much U offered me 2…

Colford says he has no idea what Zimmerman is referring to.

The entire situation seems very similar to the case between the AP and Shepard Fairey, which ultimately resulted in a $1.6 million dollar settlement, plus a $25,000 penalty because Fairey destroyed evidence in the case. Perhaps the AP is hoping to head off a costly legal battle… or win a similar verdict if they can’t.

(via Ledger-Enquirer)

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  • BrokenHelix79

    I wish this clown would have a gun backfire in his face so we can be done with it. His other “artwork” was also nothing more than a Photoshop filter over an existing image.

  • Rob Elliott

    As much as I feel for the guy, he dosen’t have a leg to stand on that is clear a violation of copyright.

  • Mike

    Sue him for 50000 Skittles.

  • harumph

    You feel for the guy?

  • Kynikos

    If AP sue him…

    …can any defendant ever possibly get a fair shake in Florida?

  • BrokenHelix79

    “As much as I feel for the guy…”

    Feel WHAT, exactly? He’s an abusive buffoon with a superiority complex who can’t stay out of trouble, and now he’s blatantly violating copyrights.

    And just so we’re clear: I’m pro-gun. I’m anti-moron, though, and George Zimmerman is a moron.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Fair use.

  • oldtaku

    When I first saw the ‘painting’ I thought it was a purposely demonized caricature. But that’s a very unflattering photo.


    What? This is CLEARLY not a violation of copyright. I’m pretty sure its the exact opposite. AP has no leg to stand its case on.

  • sean lancaster

    No chance. Fair Use does exist, but this isn’t an example of it.

  • Ed Rhodes

    interesting situation here. This is a public official in a public press conference. There are surely many pictures from other photographers that are very similar to this one. I would imagine that video footage most likely exists as well. The AP didn’t hire a model, set up the lighting, rent space, etc, so it becomes tricky. While i agree that he copied the photo, the argument could be made that since he is depicting a public official in an public event, it is fair use.

    Not saying i agree with that, but if the AP can make money off the image of a public official without a model release, then why can’t a 3rd party make money off and “adaptation” of it?

  • pvbella

    Ask Shepard Fairey. You know the guy who copied the AP Obama photo and “created” the iconic poster. AP owns the image.

  • pvbella

    AP owns the image. There is no fair use.

  • pvbella

    And you got your law degree in a Cracker Jack box?

  • Edward Murphy

    he’s standing his artistic ground,besides,you can see they are not the same…his has text.

  • jrconner

    Modest talent, reprehensible ethics.

  • Kevin Purcell

    Is this Appropriation Art? How much does Zimmerman’s art work recontextualize the appropriated work? Has he done enough to change it from the original? Look at the work of Richard Prince and Jeff Koons to see how much of minefield this can be! The decisions can go both ways for the same artist.

    A quick intro at

    One significant difference between Zimmerman and Shepard Fairey is this is clearly an artwork (a single piece of work) done for “art’s sake” and Shepard Fairey’s work was commercial graphic design (for a political/activist cause) which was sold on commercial articles (hence the award of damages).

    Perhaps another issue (brought up by those below) is that’s such a non-flattering article (and sarcastic use of her quote) that it may be considered parody (which is a protected exception). This might be a stretch but it’s possible.

    I don’t think the issue is quite as clear as the article makes out.

  • Rob Elliott

    He is a victim of circumstance and racism. He was attacked by a racist hooligan acted inside the law (even though I disagree with the law), and was vilified in the press and attacked solely because of the colour of the skin his name made people think he had. The facts were all but ignored.

    he is a moron, but the situation has he has been put it his amplified the chip on his shoulder and his likelihood of doing stupid things.

  • Mike

    Fair use is to SELL the thing!?

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Fair use exists whether or not an image is owned.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Yes, if your derivative work classifies as fair use, you can use it to make all the money you want.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Parody isn’t fair use? Particularly with regard to political speech, I don’t see how you can argue against fair use here.


    Fair use might be a defense if it INFRINGES. This probably doesn’t infringe at all and has its own copyright because of the creative choices he made. He won’t even need to argue fair use.


    Yes, in a Cracker Jack box. It was so small I almost threw it out with the box.

    In all seriousness though, look up the SCt.’s originality requirements in Feist v. Rural (1991). The standard of creativity for copyright is extremely low.


    Copying the photo means literally taking a photo of the photo or making a mechanical reproduction of it. He did not “copy” the original photo and didn’t infringe on any copyright.

  • Glit

    This guy is a moron but I don’t think the AP has any grounds on suing him for his horrible painting.

  • Michael Andrew Broughton

    the painting isn’t a parody of the photo. buy a dictionary… then repeatedly hit yourself with it.

  • David Vaughn

    I guess those domestic abuse allegations are also circumstantial? =P

  • pvbella

    Only under certain specified rules. Ask Shepard Fairey about that or get a law degree. Use one of my photos and see how fast your rear end will be in trouble.

  • pvbella

    You got your law degree where?

  • flightofbooks

    How is he parodying the AP work?

  • pvbella

    Gee, the courts disagreed with that. But, hey what do you know?

  • flightofbooks

    Fair Use Doctrine exists whether the AP owns the image or not. However I’m not sure under would grounds Zimmerman could claim fair use in this case.

  • pvbella

    Yeah, they do. Their lawyers are not as dumb as the people posting here.

  • flightofbooks

    The editors Petapixel pretty clearly have a strong bias against any interpretation of copyright law other than iron-clad creator onwership. It seems like they’re loath to even admit fair use doctrine exits, much less discuss how it might apply or not apply to a case like this (which is something any responsible reporting on a case like this would examine). But expecting professional journalism from PP would clearly be expecting far too much for a site that’s mostly camera company news leaks and reposts of content originally published elsewhere.


    What court? Please point me to a decision. In the meantime, you might want to review slavish copies in Schrock v. Learning Curve Int’l, Inc. (7th Cir. 2009).

  • Kenneth Younger III

    A parody is an example of fair use. This is clearly a parody.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    People are free to learn the law without a law degree. Stop trying to make it sound like you need one to comment on the law.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Yes, and parody is a generally a clear-cut case of fair use. I highly doubt that the AP would will any lawsuit, as long as Zimmerman fought it.

    He very well may settle, as the AP has quite a bit more resources to bully with, but that in no way proves that this image isn’t fair use.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    Do you understand who is actually in this picture and how and why he’s using it as political commentary?

  • flightofbooks

    Yes, I understand both of those things. Do you understand how the parody clause of fair use works?

    To be considered parody under fair use, the copyright protected work being used must be the object of the parody. Using a protected work to parody a third party is still infringement (unless another fair use exception can be shown).

    This seems to be a parody directed at the state’s attorney. I’m at a loss as to how it’s a parody of the AP photograph.

  • George Linard

    Agree. AP will have to prove that Zimmerman used their photo to produce a work product. With the dozens of non-AP photos and videos of Corey giving press conferences using the same mannerisms, they will be unable to do so. The claim is baseless.

  • George Linard

    Prove the AP image was used to produce the “Angie” painting. It will be impossible to do so. There are hundreds of photos and videos available on the internet in which Angela Corey postured in the manner portrayed in that painting. Its her signature style which is why Z used it. Arrogant woman.

  • George Linard

    Agree. Great summary.

  • George Linard

    LOL. pretty funny.

  • flightofbooks

    To further illustrate the difference, think about something like that photo from the 2012 Olympics of the smirking gymnast. That image was appropriated for a number of satirical uses. That would would be an example of using a protected work for parody under fair use as it comments on the original work.

    This is probably why, to my knowledge, the agency or photographer.who held the rights to that image never tried to sue anyone publishing the satirical images derived from it.

  • Kenneth Younger III

    That’s a fair point. I suppose it could very well depend on your perspective of what the photo is originally depicting; it very well could be a parody on both ends.


    I don’t disagree with you. If it does infringe, then fair use/parody would be his strongest defense because his use was clearly transformative and basically all the other fairness factors suggest his use was fair.

    I was just suggesting that they might not even get to fair use because it doesn’t even infringe in the first place. Even if there’s copying in fact, infringement also requires improper appropriation which would probably cut against AP.

  • flightofbooks

    certainly he’d be with in his rights to argue that in any legal proceedings. it sure wouldn’t be the most egregious defense for himself he’s ever offered up.

  • George Linard

    sure they are.