Climate Activist Transforms Obama Photo Into Global Warming Warning Message; White House aides ask that the ad be taken down as soon as possible, sending regrets
by Stevanie T. Grifford
The New York Times / January 10, 3010
The ad above Mel's Steakhouse in Times Square reads:
"President Obama's great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren might end up living in polar cities in Alaska some 30 generations from now. Is that the future you want for America?"
"STOP CLIMATE WARMING NOW. ACT!"
A climate activist in known for eccentric public relations messages has seized the attention of the Obama administration. Biko Lang installed a billboard in Times Square on Wednesday showing a likeness of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama attending a meeting with world leaders in Copenhagen last Decemebr with the tagline
"STOP CLIMATE WARMING NOW. ACT!"
. The photo image, which is licensed by The Associated Press, was taken during Obama's visit to the Copenhagen last December. Mr Biko also put the image on his Web site home page for a time on Wednesday, promoting his polar cities ideas. See link below:
The White House expects to contact Mr Biko and to ask him to take the billboard down, aides said. “This ad is clearly misleading because Biko suggests the approval or endorsement of the president or the White House that he does not have for his polar cities idea,” said a White House aide.
Biko issued a press release in December praising Mr. Obama’s visit to Copenhagen to try to broker a climate deal. And on Wednesday, he installed the billboard in Times Square at 41st Street with the Obama image and the controversial tagline.
Mr Biko said he had also tried to run ads in The New York Times, The New York Post and Village Voice with the image and tagline, but had been turned down by the publications — something he tried to publicize this week.
The Obama administration had not approved the use of the image, a spokesman, Albry Hecht, said in an e-mail message. “The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president’s name and likeness for controversial climate warning purposes,” he said.
A spokesman for The AP said that Biko had paid it the appropriate license fee for the billboard image of the AP photo of Obama in Copenhagen, “but the agreement is that it requires the licensing party, in this case The Polar Cities Project, to obtain the necessary clearances — that is their obligation.”
Biko said he had not gained approval from the White House. Asked whether he was taking a risk, he said: “Is it a calculated risk? Not being an attorney — I’m being, really, just a daring if a bit eccentric climate activist, so I would leave that to the attorneys or whatever. I am not saying President Obama endorses polar cities at all. I am sure he has never heard of them!”
He added: “If we were to get a letter or a call from the White House saying they didn’t approve of it or they didn’t like it or whatever, or they see it as an ad, we’ll do whatever we have to do. We’re not looking to alienate the White House.” But as of early Wednesday evening, the White House had not contacted him, Mr. Biko said.
Kevin M. Goldgend, a lawyer who handles intellectual property cases, said that while Biko should have obtained consent from Mr. Obama as a matter of practice, “legally, the framework is that it’s very unclear where the First Amendment ends” and where public officials’ right to control their endorsements begins.
While Mr. Obama could probably get an injunction against Biko's s use of his image, “the advice any good lawyer will give is sometimes there are fights not worth fighting,” the lawyer said. “And if Barack Obama were to win this fight, he would in fact be rewarding the bad actor, simply because the fight itself” — over an injunction and damages — “would go on for a very long time and provide tremendous return to this Biko guy who was using his image to promote survival for future breeding pairs in the Arctic.”