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Creator of Famed Obama Poster Sentenced for Vandalism Charges

Feb. 3, 2009: Artist Shepard Fairey poses beside his "Obama HOPE" image, part of an exhibit of his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art.AP/Boston Herald

The artist who created the "Hope" poster of President Obama was sentenced to two years of probation Friday after pleading guilty to three vandalism charges. Prosecutors dropped 11 other charges.

Shepard Fairey pleaded guilty in Boston Municipal Court to one charge of defacing property and two charges of wanton destruction of property under $250, all misdemeanors.

The 39-year-old Los Angeles street artist, who became famous for plastering his posters and stickers throughout cities, must pay $2,000 to a graffiti removal organization and cannot possess tagging materials — such as stickers or paste — in Boston except for authorized art installations. He also must tell officials when he plans to visit Suffolk County, where Boston is located.

"I think that people should be responsible about sharing their art, and that's not a transition or an evolution of my philosophy," Fairey said outside court. "Fortunately, I'm at a place in my career where I can get sanctioned spaces, so it's not an issue that I'll ever have to worry about again."

Fairey was arrested in February when he was in Boston for an event kicking off a solo exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The arrest came three days after he failed to appear in court on a charge of placing a poster on a Boston electrical box in September 2000.

In the plea deal, Fairey admitted to the 2000 incident and two others this past January: placing a sticker on the back of a traffic sign and affixing a poster to a private condominium building.

He faces no further vandalism charges in Suffolk County. Prosecutors dropped 14 charges last month, saying they could not prove Fairey had placed stickers on properties in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.

"I share my art and it works virally. People make printouts from the Internet and people buy my stickers online," he said. "There was absolutely no way for the city of Boston to assert that Obama posters put up when I wasn't even in town were done by me, which is ridiculous."

Assistant District Attorney Josh Wall said prosecutors aren't responsible for judging the artistic merits of street artists when they break the law to display their work.

Fairey intends to return to Boston on July 31 to attend a party at the museum for his exhibit, which ends next month.

In a separate case, Fairey and The Associated Press have sued each other over the "Hope" poster, which Fairey's lawyers acknowledge was derived from a photo taken for the AP.

The AP has said his uncredited and uncompensated use of the image violates copyright laws. Fairey says he didn't violate copyright law because he dramatically changed the image.