Michelangelo and the photographs of David

21 December 2017

Region: Headquarters

My post back in July about what things you can and can't photograph seems to have interested many readers, with almost a thousand reposts. In that I mentioned the complexity of the Italian law, which has special provisions covering works of cultural importance.

Last month this bubbled to the surface again with news coverage of a case involving Michelangelo’s David. On this occasion the case revolved around use of an image on tickets and it raised the question of whether rights over an old work of art can be somehow extended as if it were still in copyright. I will return to this question in future postings but for the moment it's worth considering the latest David case.

The Guardian gives the basics and the IP KAT goes into more detail. The basics appear to be that under the Italian Codice Urbani, the government and local public bodies can control the commercial exploitation of items under their control. This more obviously would apply to something like the statue of David, which is inside an access-controlled building where to gain access you agree to certain conditions, such as not commercially exploiting a photograph of the statue. But what happens if the cultural artefact is out in the street, such as Trajan's column in Rome? Best not to ask, I suspect.

Finally, if you wish to explore use of David a bit more, I recommend the notorious case, way back in 2013, of the 'Armed David'. Who said 'copyright' can't be fun.

Andy Finney is the Society's representative on the British Copyright Council and is NOT a lawyer