Recent news reports tell of an impending legal battle between the artist of the painting at left and the Associated Press who owns the photograph upon which the painting was based. The legal battle will determine whether the ubiquitous painting of the 44th President is an original piece of artwork, or one that improperly misappropriated a photograph protected by copyright laws.
But what of President Obama’s rights in his own likeness? Can any artist commandeer the President’s likeness for his/her own commercial purposes without fear of legal repercussions? Could President Obama stop such commercial use of his likeness if he was so inclined? The answer depends on how “transformative” of President Obama’s likeness the work of art is.