Photog: Don't Use Che to Sell Vodka

L O N D O N, Aug. 7, 2000 -- All over the world, the image of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara has become the quintessential rebel pinup, a college dorm-room poster standard, even emblazoned on T-shirts and the bodies of Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona.

But should Che’s striking countenance be used to sell pepper vodka?

No, says the photographer who immortalized the Latin icon on film. He is suing Smirnoff vodka’s ad agency for using the image in its latest campaign — citing copyright infringement.

“To use the image of Che Guevara to sell vodka is a slur on his name and memory. He never drank himself,” says Cuban photographer Alberto Diaz Gutierrez, known by the professional name of Alberto Korda. In 1960, Korda shot the famed picture of Guevara attending a memorial service for the crew of a Belgian cargo ship that had been carrying arms to Cuba.

“He was not a drunk, and drink should not be associated with his immortal memory,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quoted Korda as saying in an interview from Cuba.

The London ad agency Lowe Lintas used an image of Guevara superimposed with a hammer and sickle — the sickle replaced by a chili pepper — for the campaign to advertise Smirnoff’s latest product, “spicy” vodka.

Korda is suing Lowe Lintas, and the picture agency Rex Features for supplying the image to Lintas.

A Revolutionary Change in Policy

Korda has allowed his photograph to be used for 40 years on T-shirts, placards, and in books. He is said to be glad that his photo has inspired others.

But he says he objects to its use by Smirnoff because the company represents exactly the kind of big capitalism Guevara fought against.

A spokeman for the London-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign (which is helping Korda with his suit) says this is the first time Korda has mounted a “serious challenge” over copyright issues. He says he is “very confident” Korda will prevail if the case goes to trial.

Korda’s case revolves around the fact that he feels Smirnoff is trivializing the historical significance of the photo. Spokesmen for Lowe Lintas and Rex Features were not immediately available for comment, but the defendants are expected to ask Korda to prove he actually shot the photo.

Korda says he still has the camera and the original negative.

More Interest in Castro

Korda, now 71, says his newspaper didn’t publish the shot, being more interested in his pictures of Fidel Castro at the same event.

It wasn’t until an Italian publisher asked Korda for a copy that it was finally published.

When Guevara died a few months later and was hailed as a martyr, Korda’s image became the representation of a 20th-century icon.

A case conference is scheduled for later this month when the two sides will meet and attempt to settle.

If talks fail the case will go to trial and Korda, still living in Cuba, is expected to travel to testify.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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