The heir to Fidel Castro’s personal photographer, Alberto Korda recently turned her French lawyer on to Liberty Maniacs. The woman’s father was the Cuban communist who took the famous photograph of Che Guevara you see on the t-shirts of clueless teenagers and well-healed celebrities named Guerrillero Heroico (English: "Heroic Guerrilla Fighter"). We’ve been lampooning the image for over a decade.
The lawyer for the Korda estate based in Paris, Randy Yaloz, sent us the threat insinuating a million-Euro cash extraction would be required to settle the matter. Apparently the heir and company named Legende Global managing Kordas communist imagery wasn't pleased with our parodies of Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rousting cult of personality silliness. (Queue Living Colour.)
We called bullshit. (Our legal term for it.) And Paul Levy, the lawyer who successfully defended us from other stupid copyright bullying stunts from the likes of the NSA, DHS, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, quickly issued an epic response letter. Here's Paul's blog post on it.
The closing paragraph of the response is the best:
In sum, Liberty Maniacs is entirely within its rights under the doctrine of fair use as well as the First Amendment, and it will not yield to your threats. It is not going to stop disseminating its parodies, it is not going to produce any documents to you, and it is not going to conduct any discussions with you about our desire to extract payments of money to your clients. Nor does it agree with your characterization of its products as “litigious” – should you file suit as you are threatening to so, the label of litigiousness will likely be applied to you and your clients. If you file suit in France, we will not appear to defend, but we will oppose any attempt to enforce any resulting judgment here in the United States. If you do file suit in the United States, we anticipate seeking an award of attorney fees for the bringing of frivolous infringement claims
Korda was an avowed communist working for Castro’s personal newspaper Revolución - yes, Castro had his own personal Cuban newspaper - and as a communist he was never allowed the rights to his famous image of Che.
At least, when Korda took the iconic image of Che Guevara in 1960 that became a worldwide symbol of revolution and rebellion he never received any royalties for the image. Why? Because Castro did not recognize the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. As any Kulak can tell you, good communists don’t respect private property rights.
But Korda likely wain’t all that instrumental in making the cult image of Che part of popular culture in reality. That credit is likely due to Irishman Jim Fitzpatrick, who took the image without permission and started a poster company in the 60s and 70s called Two Bear Feet. After that artists and designers world wide started reproducing the image worldwide trying to make a quick buck. Mostly in the chiaroscuro psychedelic style Fitzpatrick used which is easier to screenprint with crude equipment.
Jim eventually moved on to do Thin Lizzy album covers and some portraits of leftists and Irish landscapes after Che. But you can still buy his original reproductions featuring the hidden “JF” on Che’s shoulder and slightly raised eyebrow he fashioned on Che to add drama.
We, however, as heartless cogs in the capitalist superstructure of economic exploitation do respect those property rights of Comrade Korda, and would have willingly shelled out for whatever licensing fee the lovely Mrs. Diana Díaz López would ask for if we were into promoting mass murdering communists on t-shirts.
But we do parodies. Parodies don't require permission and don't cost a licensing fee. And that, my friends, is why Comrade Diana Díaz López - or more likely the company managing these images - put her legal French poodle on us.
In our experience over the last 17 years having fun with powerful folks, we've found they sometimes don’t have the thickest skin. Nor a healthy sense of humor.
Copyright harassment seems to be the go-to tactic when you're trying to protect a less-than-stellar reputation in an age where any kid can pull up how your subject was an intense racist homophobe mass murderer on a smart phone. Yikes. With a Che-themed copyright troll it seems ironically appropriate too considering Che thought free speech and courts for that matter were a bourgeois detail.
“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary … These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution!” - Che
Well, we don't plan on "bending the knee" any time soon. Paul sent off another one of his legal top turnbuckle elbow drops, and I don't suspect there will be much more barking from the French poodle or comrade Díaz López. American law still respects free speech on matters such as this, and the weird european clause their lawyer cites don't apply here.
But as always, if they still want to test the 1st Amendment and free speech here in the USA, then we’ll certainly be their huckleberry. Until then, however, Liberty Maniacs will go right ahead and continue making parodies of comrade Che and anyone else we please. We hope you enjoy them and even try one on for size if it suits your fancy.