Thursday 22 March 2018

Leave legends alone or cough up copyright

A still from the Collins' bread advert
A still from the Collins' bread advert

First they came for Collins, but who's next? Which other historical figure's image is up for grabs?

Are we set to see De Valera sunglasses or Padraig Pearse black pudding?

Does -- or should -- the State have any way to protect iconic images of its founding fathers from crass commercialisation?

The question's arisen after a Herald story this week on the use of footage of Michael Collins in a new ad for sliced bread.

The tasteless move -- the Big Fella was more likely to pack a Webley revolver than a toasted sandwich on the way to work -- has been strongly criticised.

The Michael Collins 22 Society, headed by Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan, is complaining to RTE and the Advertising Standards Authority.

"We are concerned when people jump on board for benefits other than historical," Mr Coonan stated.


In other words we should stop allowing our country's heritage to be used to flog any and everything -- from grubby posters to bread to whiskey ("Like the man himself, Michael Collins Irish Whiskeys embody the strong character, bold heritage and uncompromising authenticity of the Irish spirit - and awaken independence in us all".)

Whatever about issues of taste, there's a more urgent reason to protect such images -- we need the royalties.

There is a precedent for attempting to enforce such copyright.

Witness the attempts made by artist Jim Fitzpatrick to secure the rights to his iconic image of Che Guevara.

Fitzpatrick's portrait of the political leader has been used since the 1960s on everything from T-shirts to cigarette lighters.

Countless millions have been made from the image over the years, none of which has gone to Fitzpatrick or Guevara's family (who should, the Irishman argues, inherit the money).

Fitzpatrick has yet to win the rights, but despite the tonnes of Che-stamped tack already shifted he clearly believes he has a winnable case.

If one man can fight for one of the most ripped-off images in copyright history surely we -- as a country -- can make some effort to protect our national identity?

Otherwise -- with the 1916 centenary around the corner -- prepare to see a lot, lot more of Pearse and Connolly.

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