The Dead Kennedys’ protest over use of their iconic photo for political campaigning in Hungary

April 03. 2024. – 10:45 AM



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Jellop Biafra, the former frontman of the punk band Dead Kennedys was not exactly delighted to find out that the Hungarian Civil Cooperation Forum (Civil Összefogás Fórum or CÖF) stole their iconic photo and is using it for their latest billboard campaign in support of the Orbán-government throughout Hungary. He said that they did not give permission at all to the creepy wannabe dictator Orbán or his party to use the photo and added that this is most certainly an infringement on the copyrights of both the Dead Kennedys and the renowned new wave/early punk photographer F.Stop Fitzgerald.

The Civil Cooperation Forum (CÖF) is nominally an NGO. It was established in 2009, one year prior to Viktor Orbán’s return to power. Over the years, they have provided political support in various forms to the Orbán governments. Among others, CÖF was the main organizer of the so-called “Peace March Demonstrations” and they have regularly promoted the government’s political ideas via communiqués and billboards across the country.

They have received donations from a Fidesz-funded foundation and state-owned companies as well.

In the original photo, the band members are each wearing a white shirt and a black tie, with a large “S” spray-painted over their chest, thus creating an image reminiscent of the dollar sign. CÖF has modified the image and instead of the band members’ heads inserted the heads of four Hungarian opposition politicians: András Fekete-Győr András (Momentum), Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) and Péter Márki-Zay (MMM), echoing the Hungarian government’s favourite slogan used as of late for describing the opposition: “the dollar-funded left”. Under the photo it says: “They bought them by the kilo.”

The CÖF billboard in a Budapest street – Photo: Telex
The CÖF billboard in a Budapest street – Photo: Telex

After the former lead singer, the currently active members of the Californian band, guitarist East Bay Ray and bassist Klaus Florited also made it clear that they had not given permission to CÖF to use their famous image. Ray said:

"This photo was stolen from the Dead Kennedys and photographer F. Stop Fitzgerald by the right-wing lunatics in power in Orbán's camp. If they are stealing from us, they will no doubt steal from the Hungarian people too".

In his reaction to 444, bassist Klaus Flouride said that there was nothing good about Orbán’s cruel politics, that they support his opposition, and are upset that an F.Stop Fitzgerald photo was used in a campaign against them. He explained that they didn’t want to have anything to do with this.

CÖF has used billboards for advertising the government’s messages before, but this was the first time they also used online ads as well. As the analysis of Political Capital shows, between 17-25 March alone, they spent 30 million forints (76,000 euros) on disseminating a single video about “the dollar-funded left” on Facebook and Google. Of this amount, 17,8 million forints were spent on Facebook, and between 10-15 million forints on Google (Google doesn’t provide a more specific number than this).

CÖF reacted to the band members’ comments with a statement in which they referred to a Guardian article published on 17 December 2022 about the young Californian singer-songwriter Steve Lacy. In his music videos and at his concerts that year, Lacy indeed borrowed the image from the iconic Dead Kennedys photo: he wore a white shirt with the letter S drawn on it, which formed a dollar sign when worn with a black tie.

"When an American rapper copied the Dead Kennedys, they were not as sensitive," the Hungarian organization wrote.

CÖF argued that at the time no one had reprimanded the young musician for theft, but "the final verdict of the commentators was that the black performer was inspired by and was paying homage to the punk band's image. In light of this, we call on those concerned to stop the circus and instead talk about the fact that the left was trying to influence the 2022 parliamentary election campaign with money received directly from abroad, as was confirmed by the national security investigation into the subsidies of the united left-wing opposition".

One thing the CÖF statement fails to mention is that there is a difference between a musician being inspired by the work of another musician and a musician's work being used for political purposes without his or her prior consent. It is also worth noting, that the Dead Kennedys took their iconic photo in 1980 to protest against the emptiness of the money-hungry music industry and not to protest against the dollar-funded left.

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