That photo of Che Guevara

You know the one I mean. The the famous one of Che Guevara wearing a beret. It’s been reproduced millions of times, not least on t-shirts and posters. You’d think it was in the public domain but actually the copyright belonged to the original Cuban photographer, Alberto Díaz ‘Korda’ Gutierrez – and now to his estate following his death in 2001.

Korda took the photo in March 1960 and didn’t mind it being reproduced world-wide, even though he didn’t benefit financially, because the image became an icon of the Cuban revolution.

He did object, however, when it was used to sell alcohol. Che Guevara, a doctor by profession, was teetotal. Korda sued Smirnoff Vodka and prevented the use of his photograph for this commercial purpose. His daughter is now involved in similar lawsuits according to the Guardian.

The point is that copyright isn’t just about money. The creator’s moral rights establish their authorship independently of commercial considerations. (So the credits for the song ‘Yesterday’ remain with Lennon/McCartney, even though they signed away the commercial rights many years ago.)

Copyright also allows the creator to control the use of their creation, preventing its inappropriate use. This applies to photos, music, film, writing and all other art forms protected by copyright.

So, for example, Simon Cowell reports that Lou Reed refused permission for Susan Boyle to sing his song ‘Perfect Day’ on America’s Got Talent.

Moral rights as well as commercial rights are important for creative entrepreneurs. All the more reason to understand copyright law and use licences such as those offered by the Creative Commons to control the usage, adaptation and commercialisation of creative works.