George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who was acquitted of killing teen Trayvon Martin, has been selling his artwork connected to the famous case online. But now he’s under fire for using an Associated Press image as inspiration for one painting, without permission.
Photographer Rick Wilson says he was shocked and angered to find that his photograph of Florida prosecutor Angela Corey was “ripped off” by Zimmerman.
Wilson told ABC News that he finds the use of his photo “extremely disrespectful and if not illegal. George Zimmerman is not a professional artist, what he is in this situation is just a scam artist,” Wilson said.
The AP image Wilson took has been widely distributed across the Internet and in newspapers. It was taken when prosecutor Angela Corey was announcing that she was pressing charges against Zimmerman in April 2012. Zimmerman’s painting appears to be a duplicate of the photo, done in orange and red.
Christian Viveros-Faune, art critic for the Village Voice, told TIME that Zimmerman’s work fits alongside other “murderabilia” such as paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy and cult leader Charles Manson.
“Just because you get pigment and a canvas or a piece of cloth and you dirty it up doesn’t make it a work of art,” Viveros-Faune told the magazine.
“From my experience, he used a photo editing software, or he projected the picture onto a blank canvas and painted over it,” Wilson said of Zimmerman’s work. Another art critic in the TIME story called it “appalling” and a “paint by number” piece.
John Phillips, Wilson’s friend and attorney, told ABC News, “The issue for me is that Zimmerman doesn’t seem to respect anybody’s right, and he needs to move on from this Trayvon Martin, Angela Corey situation. Quit trying to capitalize off this whole incident.”
“The first step is to stop him from doing it, the second step is to address what harm he has already caused and the third step would be to… well if it doesn’t stop, to shut him down essentially,” Phillips said.
Paul Colford, Director of Media Relations at AP, said in a statement, “George Zimmerman clearly directly copied an AP photo to create his painting of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey. The AP has sent a cease-and-desist letter asserting its copyright in the photo to the lawyer who recently represented Mr. Zimmerman. That lawyer has responded, and though she no longer represents Mr. Zimmerman, she will be forwarding the letter to him today.”
AP images chimed in on Twitter, tweeting, “The Associated Press demands that George Zimmerman stop selling a painting it says directly copies an AP photo.”
Zimmerman fired back on his Twitter handle, @TherealGeorgeZ, tweeting, “No worries AP, I’ll just take whatever U sue me for off your tab when I’m done suing you J Or… I could put out how much U offered me 2..”
Wilson hopes this battle between AP and Zimmerman will “bring this issue into the public’s consciousness,” and serve as a “greater example of copyright law.”
Zimmerman reportedly sold a patriotic painting on eBay for nearly $100,000, attracting over 90 bidders in December. It’s not clear if he actually received that much cash for the painting.
Last year, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the 2012 Sanford, Fla., shooting of the unarmed teenager in a case that generated national attention.