Earlier this week the Florence Court of First Instance (Tribunale di Firenze) issued an important and interesting decision [not yet available], which has been widely reported by newspapers in Italy [eg here, here, here, here] and abroad [eg here].
The Avvocatura dello Stato, this being the body responsible for advising and representing the Italian state (including in legal proceedings), sued a company, Visit Today, before the Florence Court of First Instance, seeking to obtain a decision that would prohibit this from selling unofficial tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, also using brochures and materials depicting what is probably the most famous guest of this beautiful museum: Michelangelo’s David.
The Florence court sided with Avvocatura dello Stato, and prohibited Visit Today from using the David’s image for commercial purposes.
On what grounds?
I have received several messages asking what the possible grounds for a decision of this kind would be, since copyright protection in this artwork has clearly lapsed … well, at least economic rights.
It is in fact worth recalling that in Italy moral rights protection is perpetual and also the State [or rather, the Head of Italian Government: see Article 23 of the Copyright Act] can enforce an author’s own moral rights. Similarly to other droit d’auteur jurisdictions, Italian courts have interpreted moral rights provisions generously, with the result that the scope of the right of integrity is rather broad.
This said, the main ground for the decision appears to have been [as I mentioned, the decision has not been published yet] the Italian Cultural Heritage Code, also known as Codice Urbani [see here for a recent discussion of Italian freedom of panorama and its relationship with the Code; see also here for an analysis of the decision].
Article 106 of the Code sets the general principle that for cultural heritage items subject to their own control, the State, the various Italian regions and local public bodies may allow individual applicants to use such items for purposes compatible with their own cultural value.
This means that for-profit uses of cultural heritage under the responsibility of Italian public administration are not generally free: instead, they are subject to preventive authorization.
Articles 107 and 108 of the Code provide that the competent public administration may allow third-party uses of an item – including an artwork – belonging to Italian cultural heritage, subject to the payment of royalties to be determined on the basis of – among other things – the type of use requested and the possible economic gain that the user would obtain from the use of the item.
This said, authorization is not required in each and every case. Article 108(3-bis) clarifies in fact that non-profit uses of cultural heritage items for purposes of study, research, freedom of expression or creative expression, and promotion of the knowledge of culturalheritage do not require authorization.
A surprising decision? Not really
The Florence court’s decision, therefore, is not surprising. It is not the first time, in fact, that improper and unauthorized commercial use of Italian cultural heritage has been at the centre of litigation or … threats of litigation. With specific regard to Michelangelo’s David, readers will for instance remember the rather recent case of the ‘armed David’ [here].
Similarly, lawyers who advise clients in the advertising business regularly remind them that the Cultural Heritage Code may prevent them from using works that, otherwise, would be in the public domain from a copyright standpoint.
What is at stake
When visiting Italian cities like Florence, Rome, and Venice it is very frequent to see long queues outside museums and monuments. Invariably frequent is also the sight of vendors (known as ‘bagarini‘) offering tickets – at prices higher than the official ones – to people standing in the queue, alleging great bargains and promising to let them skip the queue (admittedly a rather attractive perspective when you are queuing under the sun and facing a temperature of 38°C).
However, visitors are also often victims of scams.
The reason why the Avvocatura dello Stato brought the present proceedings was indeed also to set a ‘precedent’ and reduce, and possibly eliminate, the problem of bagarini.
Commenting on the Florence decision, Italian Minister of Culture stated that the decision is a good step in the direction of repressing the unauthorized sale – including over the internet – of tickets for Italian cultural heritage sites and the improper use of cultural heritage items. Headded that this decision “is an important step forward for the protection of consumers and the protection of masterpieces held in Italian museums.” The Cultural Heritage Ministry – he added – will continue to monitor improper uses and take action in all cases that infringe relevant provisions in the Cultural Heritage Code.
Although the decision is of course limited to the defendant’s activities, according to the director of Galleria dell’Accademia, Cecilie Hollberg, the outcome will serve as a model for all the museums that face the problem of unofficial ticket vendors who sell tickets at a higher price, thus scamming wannabe visitors.
[Originally published on The IPKat on 25 November 2017]
The author: Dr Eleonora Rosati is an Associate Professor in Intellectual Property Law. Find out more here.