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Countercultural Copying

Ever wonder how Argentine-turned-Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara ended up as a T-shirt? 

Check out the exhibit at the International Center of Photography in New York (through February 26).  Not only are there Che T-shirts from around the world, but also additional evidence of the comandante's commercial appeal, ranging from cigarette lighters to Cherry Guevara ice cream.  (Hello, Ben & Jerry's?)

Photographer Alberto Korda snapped the original shot, "Guerrillero Heroico," in Cuba in 1960, but failed to pay much attention to the copyright.  He apparently never received any royalties for use of the images, but did win at least one out-of-court settlement against an advertiser and claimed to be against the commercial exploitation of the image.  Presumably Che didn't receive any compensation either, even assuming that would have been consistent with his revolutionary Marxist politics.  Today Che's face is a steady source of revenue in Cuba, where T-shirt vendors greet arriving tourists at the airport. 

The specific message of the image, however, has decreased in inverse proportion to its popularity.  Viva la revolucion? Power to the people?  Overthrow the capitalist pigs?  Or just a dramatic, vaguely rebellious image?  You decide.

And meanwhile, take a look at the conservative competition.


Dear Susan,
There seems to be at least one case of copyright infringement over this famous photo: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=9477

(btw, it's a good surprise to meet you again! You may recall we met at an IP conference in Boston in September '04. Best regards, Cédric)

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