Artist v. the Vatican - a divine right? The Vatican issues a street art stamp and gets sued - Boodle Hatfield

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26 May 2021

Artist v. the Vatican – a divine right? The Vatican issues a street art stamp and gets sued

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I could not believe my eyes whilst reading ArtNet's morning briefing today. The Vatican (yes, the Vatican), is being sued by a Roman street artist, Alessia Babrow, for the alleged infringement of her copyright. She is seeking damages in the amount of €130,000. It does not get better than this.

She claims that the Vatican used her artwork without her permission (without a licence) on a run of some 80,000 Easter themed stamps published last year and sold at €1.15 a piece. 

Following attempts to 'mediate' the dispute failed, including an offer from the Vatican for the artist to meet the Pope, she has launched legal proceedings, with the case due to be heard in December.

Although there are conflict of laws issues between the Italy and the Vatican City State (which I cannot claim to understand!), it will be fascinating to see the outcome of the case assuming it does not settle on confidential terms beforehand. 

In the UK, the artist, as a creator of an original artistic work would own the copyright in it and would be able to bring a claim against a person who created an infringing copy without permission. The artist would be entitled to seek relief such as damages, injunctions, accounts or otherwise as would be available in respect of the infringement of any other property right. 

This is another example of an artist trying to enforce their rights against infringers. It was a headline back in 2019 when the elusive Banksy won a case for copyright infringement against an Italian museum who were selling merchandise based on his art (covered in our Art Law and More blog here). Banksy did however, suffer a set back this year when the EU IPO ruled a trade mark was declared “invalid in its entirety” in a dispute with a greeting card company. A trade mark differs from copyright however, in that to be valid for protection it must be used for a commercial purpose. His comment that "copyright is for losers" was used against him in that case. We wrote about this here

Meanwhile, enthusiastic philatelists must be desperately trying to get their hands on one of the offending Vatican stamps for their collections! 

Babrow’s lawsuit comes amid a growing push by street artists to protect the copyright of their work.

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