Reporters Without Borders voiced relief at being ordered today by a Paris court to pay only 6,000 euros to Diane Diaz Lopez, the heir of Cuban photographer Alberto "Korda" Diaz Gutierrez, for non-compliance with a court order of 9 July 2003 banning it from using Korda’s famous photograph of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in a beret.
"As Ms. Diaz Lopez had demanded in excess of one million euros, we think this ruling is reasonable and that it assigns an appropriate degree of importance to the offence," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "The sole aim of Ms. Diaz Lopez’s demands was to stifle our organisation, and the judge did not play along," he added.
The court said in its ruling that "the excessive demands made by the plaintiff appear clearly out of proportion with the established facts."
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that it has repeatedly been the target of hostility from the Cuban authorities since the arrest of 75 dissidents in March 2003. Reporters Without Borders activists were physically attacked during a demonstration outside the Cuban embassy in Paris in April 2003, the organisation was the target of a campaign of insults in the official press, and Cuba’s representatives called for the withdrawal of its consultative status with the United Nations.
In today’s hearing, the Paris higher-level court was asked to rule on whether Reporters Without Borders had respected the 9 July 2003 ban on use of Korda’s photograph of Che and to determine what sum that the organisation had to pay Diaz Lopez. Korda, who is deceased, lived in Havana.
Reporters Without Borders used Korda’s photograph of Che in a beret in June 2003 for a poster campaign drawing attention to press freedom violations in Cuba. The poster was based on the famous May 1968 poster showing a riot policeman with a baton in one hand and a shield in the other. Che’s face, taken from Korda’s photograph, was superimposed on the policemen’s face. The slogan for the campaign, which was to have run from 8 to 22 July, was: "Welcome to Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists."
Diaz Lopez filed a lawsuit in Paris on 3 July 2003 calling for Reporters Without Borders to be banned from using the photograph. The Paris higher-level court issued a summary judgment on 9 July banning the organisation from "reproducing or disseminating [the disputed image] in whatsoever form," and ordering the "removal and withdrawal of all products already existing." The judge set a penalty payment of 200 euros for every confirmed failure to comply.
Reporters Without Borders immediately withdraw the images from its website, and cancelled and stopped all dissemination of the 1,100 posters and 5,000 postcards that had been produced for the campaign. The organisation also issued a press release about the ban.
Diaz Lopez’s subsequent court petition was prompted by the broadcast on 1 October 2003 of an interview with Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard on LCI television’s programme "Première séance" about the release of the film "Veronica Guerin." During the interview, which took place at Reporters Without Borders headquarters, the Cuba campaign poster could be seen in the background on the wall of Ménard’s office.
As a result of the broadcast, a court bailiff came to Reporters Without Borders headquarters on 12 December to see if the organisation still had copies of the poster, although the 9 July court order had only required the "removal and withdrawal" of the images, not their destruction.
The bailiff found part of the stock of campaign posters and postcards, but not all of them because some had been thrown out. Diaz Lopez’s lawyer alleged that Reporters Without Borders showed bad faith by not only keeping the visuals but also continuing to disseminate them. Korda’s heir demanded 1,142,000 euros in penalty payment for non-compliance.
A campaign to draw attention to a totalitarian regime
The Reporters Without Borders poster campaign was targeted at the approximately 120,000 French tourists who chose Cuba as a holiday destination each year, lured by its sun, its beaches and the myth of a revolution by bearded guerrillas.
The poster aimed to highlight how the Cuban revolution’s ideology, which still captivates many tourists, cloaks totalitarian practices and that the regime uses Che as an icon to legitimise repression. It was also meant to show that the myth that caught the imagination of an entire generation in the 1960s had turned into something that generation hated - a police state.
The Cuban government launched a nationwide crackdown on dissent on 18 March 2003. A total of 75 dissidents were tried and sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years for "undermining the state’s integrity and sovereignty" or its "independence." They included 27 independent journalists who joined the four journalists who were already detained. Cuba thereby became the world’s biggest prison for journalists.
The punishments for journalists who had challenged the state’s monopoly of news and information did not stop there. They were transferred to prisons hundreds of kilometres from their homes, their right to receive family visits was curtailed and they had to endure harsh prison conditions.