Clinton Fein has made significant contributions in various fields throughout his career. He is currently a technology consultant and motivational speaker, spending time between Johannesburg, South Africa and Palm Springs, California.
Fein’s journey began in 1986 when he co-founded Positive Systems, Inc., a New York-based recruitment agency focused on applying Artificial Intelligence to the financial and insurance industries. Fein played a crucial role in serving prestigious clients such as Equitable Life Insurance, Salomon Brothers, and Paine Webber.
Venturing into the entertainment industry, Fein relocated to Los Angeles, where he served as assistant to the President of Orion Pictures and as part of the creative team. Orion’s films included Academy Award-winning productions like “Dances With Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
In 1994, Fein co-founded ApolloMedia, which gained recognition for releasing “Conduct Unbecoming,” a CD-ROM exploring the issue of gays in the military based on the book by renowned investigative reporter Randy Shilts. Conduct Unbecoming was the first-ever CD-ROM to face First Amendment violations and win a victory over the United States Navy. The company pioneered digital activism through its groundbreaking e-post feature, allowing users to communicate electronically with their elected representatives for the first time. The project received critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Critics Choice Award and being hailed as “evolutionary” by Rolling Stone Magazine.
Passionate about First Amendment rights, Fein joined forces with legal experts to challenge the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) through a lawsuit filed against Janet Reno, the former Attorney General of the United States. This legal action coincided with the launch of Annoy.com, an impactful website created by ApolloMedia that garnered global attention for its unapologetic and hard-hitting approach to political and social issues. Annoy.com enabled visitors to engage in unfiltered and unmediated threaded discussions on a wide range of topics, sparking reactions worldwide.
Although ApolloMedia successfully established the constitutional protection for “indecent” communications intended to “annoy” someone over the Internet, the lawsuit did not strike down the provision as unconstitutional. The company appealed to the United States Supreme Court, ultimately receiving a summary affirmation in April 1999.
Fein actively engages in extracurricular and social activities besides his professional endeavors. He served as President of the Board of The First Amendment Project (FAP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to safeguarding and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition. Fein’s contributions extended to serving on the boards of organizations such as the San Francisco Partnership’s Multimedia Task Force, and the Information Technology Coalition (ITC).
Fein’s valuable insights and criticisms of government attempts to regulate speech on the Internet have been featured in prominent publications, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. His work and expertise are widely recognized and covered by major news organizations, solidifying his reputation as a noteworthy figure in the field.
Fein launched his art career in 2002, postponing his debut in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, with a solo exhibition at San Francisco-based Toomey Tourell Gallery titled “Annoy.com” based on the images from the website and on the advice of renowned sculptor Lynda Benglis, who coined it “Press Art.”
Additional solo exhibitions followed, notably WARning at Axis Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, and Numb and Number at Toomey Tourell. Controversy ensued when a printing company in Silicon Valley deliberately destroyed two of the pieces prior to the opening in San Francisco. During this time Fein’s work was featured in books, including The Art of Engagement by Peter Selz and American Protest Literature by Zoe Trodd, released by Harvard University Press.
Fein’s groundbreaking 2008 exhibition, aptly titled Torture, ignited a fervent debate within the art world and captivated the attention of esteemed publications such as Art in America magazine. Fein’s audacious exploration of the deeply unsettling topic of torture elicited strong reactions from viewers, with some applauding his boldness while others found themselves uncomfortable and provoked.
Renowned art critic Peter Selz, formerly a leading curator at the Museum of Modern Art and founding director of the University Art Museum, Berkeley, lent his expertise to the discourse surrounding the exhibition. Fein’s thought-provoking and controversial work also caught the attention of prestigious educational institutions, including Harvard University, which recognized its socio-political relevance and ability to provoke crucial conversations about human rights, morality, and the boundaries of artistic expression. In its wake, Fein’s “Torture” exhibition left an indelible mark on the art world, challenging conventional notions and inciting dialogue that reverberated far beyond the gallery walls.
In 2022, Fein teamed with Bryan Schimmel to launch Re:Bullying, a presentation and workshop series focused on bullying at schools and in the workplace.
His first book, Nothing in Moderation, is scheduled for release in 2023.
Fein graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa in 1986, obtaining a BA in Industrial Psychology.
Clinton Fein is an artist, writer and activist, noted for his company Apollomedia and its controversial website Annoy.com and its Supreme Court victory against Janet Reno, United States Attorney General, regarding the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act in 1997
Born in South Africa, Fein grew up under Apartheid. As he graduated from the University of Witwatersrand, he was interested in journalism. But the South Africa of the time was not a promising environment for young journalists. Under the repressive censorship regime, one could be imprisoned for quoting Nelson Mandela…
Clinton Fein’s latest exhibition, Torture, which opened at Toomey Tourell Gallery in San Francisco in January 2007 is a shocking and defiant exploration of America’s approach to torture under the Bush administration.
A series of staged and digitally manipulated photographic images recreate the infamous torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, transforming the diffuse, muted and low-resolution images into large-scale, vivid, powerful and frightening reproductions.
On January 30, 1997, Clinton Fein launched annoy.com, simultaneously filing a federal court action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 that criminalized any “indecent” computer communication intended to “annoy” another person.
Much of the content on annoy.com was deliberately provocative and very often, somewhat crass, mocking the pretensions and piety of politicians and media alike.
The CDA’s assault on the First Amendment could not be countered with subtleties. So began a prolonged court battle against Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration that was finally determined by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Fein became the first South African born activist to challenge the United States government before the Supreme Court.
Days before the release of Conduct Unbecoming, the Navy attempted to bar the use of a 1972 recruiting poster featuring the first African American used in a recruiting campaign. Servicemember Ed Graves had been discharged from the Navy a few years later for being gay. Refusing to allow the “Don’t Tell” provision of the new policy relating to gays and lesbians in the armed forces to extend to civilians as well, Clinton Fein, President of ApolloMedia, refused to pull the image.
ApolloMedia, represented by Michael Traynor at Cooley Godward, effectively established the de facto acknowledgment that First Amendment protections must be extended to CD-ROM publishers and, in so doing, helped shape the legal foundations for defining the content of interactive digital media.