The image of a dead Marxist revolutionary who inspired a generation of young people is at the centre of a legal battle involving capitalism's shop window – advertising.

Alberto Gutierrez, also known as Alberto Korda, whose photograph of Cuban hero Che Guevara has adorned bedroom posters and

T-shirts around the world, wants payment for the image which has been used widely without his permission. He was outraged when photo agency Rex Features supplied his picture of the enigmatic Che to advertising agency Lowe Lintas for a campaign advertising Smirnoff's spicy vodka.

According to Robert Miller, national co-ordinator of the London-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign: “Gutierrez was very unhappy at the way the picture was used. He feels that it was a slur on Che Guevara who was teetotal.”

Gutierrez is believed to be seeking damages of £1.9m from the drinks company and for the first time is seeking copyright over the Che image in the UK.

Miller said the case, if it is successful in court, could have wide repercussions for copyright law and has many similarities with Diana, Princess of Wales' image, which has limited protection in law.

Gutierrez still has the negatives of the Che Guevara photo he took at a memorial service for members of a cargo ship, which attempted to break the US blockade of the island in 1960.