The seemingly endless Shepard Fairey legal saga continued this past week in Federal Court in New York. Mr. Fairey, an illustrator and the creator of the “Obama Hope” poster, had been involved in a copyright infringement matter where – very long story, short – claims were made that his poster was a rip off of copyright registered photo taken by a person other than Mr. Fairey. The matter has culminated in (among other things) settlement, many if not all of Mr. Fairey’s claims and defenses being thrown in the judicial garbage can and Mr. Fairey receiving (in our judgement) a rather light sentence of 300 hours of community service and a $25,000 fine NOT for copyright infringement, but rather for Contempt of Court. He could have received a 6-month sentence and been ordered to pay millions of dollars. The sentence was imposed by Magistrate Frank Maas because Mr. Fairey had destroyed documents and manufactured evidence in connection with the very expensive copyright case he was engaged in with the AP. Fairey was more than fortunate with this sentencing.

Destroying evidence, documents, and making up stuff is a huge no-no. And no-no’s can get you time in the slammer. Remember, Martha Stewart did not serve time for the insider trading she was being investigated for, but rather for lying to those investigating.  Fabricating “evidence” with an intent to deceive a judge, jury or (even) an adversary, is roughly similar in that it perverts the judicial system and impedes justice.

Believe it or not, trial preparation work done by lawyers and their staffs is tedious, mind numbing and seemingly endless. Yet another reason Jack is not a lawyer. Thousands of hours were invested by the lawyers and the court’s staff to determine the merits of this case. Ed once had a case where a model release signature was forged. Fortunately the opposing attorney soon came to realize that Ed was indeed correct and the case promptly settled.  Many cases involve documents which have been “artfully” created so as to deceive taxing authorities for example. To forge, destroy or fake documents used in an on going court case however, is a very serious offense. If done by a lawyer and discovered, suspension or disbarment is likely in the cards and criminal prosecution is perhaps, on the horizon as well.  Done by a party, witness or layperson criminal penalties (as here) are quite likely.

This issue is all the more significant today in 2012 where Photoshop is routinely used by millions of people and digital manipulation of both images and documents can be performed with great skill by children using cheap consumer hardware. Attorneys now have the added burden of tripling their efforts to confirm that the photos and documents provided them by their clients are in fact authentic. Ed has escorted a handful of potential clients out of his office when upon careful examination of the documents shown to him, revealed “inconsistencies”.

There are those who seek to start lawsuits for the purposes of “earning income” regardless of whether there is any merit to their claims.  They try to find lawyers who “need the business”,  will work on a contingency basis and who may unknowingly take on bogus cases. The disreputable client then sits back, does nothing and lets the attorney take a shot at getting some money.  Having not paid the lawyer a dime, such clients don’t much care about the fee the lawyer gets only if the case settles or is ultimately tried to a favorable verdict.  It’s just like going into a casino where the house has given you chips to play with. Potentially a big upside but no downside, no risk.

There is a growing field of experts (Jack being one of them) who assist lawyers and Courts determine the pedigree or authenticity of photographs which in prior decades were simply accepted as accurate, solid evidence without much inquiry. The numbers of these cases will continue to grow. Most of them will go unreported.  Each instance serves to undermine both the value of photography as an accurate record of events and diminishes the credibility of those who practice the profession.