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Family to protect Che's iconic image
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-09-01 06:03

With his picture on rock band posters, baseball caps and women's lingerie, revolutionary Che Guevara is firmly entrenched in consumer society.

A model models beachwear with the image of Che Guevara. [Reuters]

Che Guevara: world's most reproduced image [file photo]

The image of the Argentine-born guerrilla gazing sternly into the distance, long hair tucked into a beret with a single star, has been an enduring 20th century pop icon.

The picture - taken by a Cuban photographer in 1960 and printed on posters by an Italian publisher after Guevara's execution in Bolivia seven years later - fired the imagination of rioting Parisian students in May 1968 and became a symbol of idealistic revolt for a generation.

But as well as being one of the world's most reproduced, the image has become one of its most merchandized. And Guevara's family is launching an effort to stop it. They plan to file lawsuits abroad against companies that they believe are exploiting the image and say lawyers in a number of countries have offered assistance.

"We have a plan to deal with the misuse," Guevara's Cuban widow Aleida March said in an interview.

"We cannot attack everyone with lances like Don Quixote, but we can try to maintain the ethics" of Guevara's legacy, said March, who will lead the effort from the Che Guevara Studies Centre which is opening in Havana later this year.

"The centre intends to contain the uncontrolled use of Che's image. It will be costly and difficult because each country has different laws, but a limit has to be drawn," said the legendary guerrilla's daughter, Aleida Guevara.

Swatch has used Guevara on a wristwatch. Advertising firms have used his image to sell vodka. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen even took to the runway in Brazilian underwear stamped with Che's face.

Guevara collectibles - from Zippo lighters to belt buckles and key chains - can be bought online.

But a successful copyright lawsuit against Smirnoff vodka in Britain in 2000 set the precedent for legal action, establishing ownership of the photographic image.

Lawyers say it will be an uphill struggle to deter non-photographic use of such a widely reproduced image, other than in countries like Italy where laws protect image rights.

Korda versus Smirnoff

The famous picture was shot by Alberto Diaz, a fashion photographer better known as Korda, at a funeral for victims of the explosion of a French freighter transporting weapons to Cuba one year after Cuba's revolution triumphed with the help of Guevara.

Korda's group photograph was not printed by his newspaper the next day. Seven years later, when Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli showed up looking for a cover picture for an edition of Che's "Bolivian Diary," Korda gave him two prints for free.

Guevara was captured six months later in the Bolivian jungle, where his bid to start an armed peasant uprising failed. On news on his death, Feltrinelli cropped the photo and published large posters that quickly sold 1 million copies.

The guerrilla fighter was transformed into martyr, pop celebrity and radical chic poster boy.

Korda said he never received a penny from Feltrinelli.

But a year before his death in 2001, the photographer won a lawsuit against London agency Lowe Lintas for unauthorized use of the picture in a Smirnoff vodka advertising campaign. Korda later donated the US$70,000 award to children's health care in Cuba.

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