By Nicole Winfield, AP News | ROME – One night in early 2019, Rome street artist Alessia Babrow glued a stylized image of Christ she had made onto a bridge near the Vatican. A year later, she was shocked to learn that the Vatican had apparently used a reproduction of the image, which featured Babrow’s hallmark heart emblazoned across Christ’s chest, as its 2020 Easter postage stamp.
Babrow sued the Vatican city-state’s telecommunications office in a Rome court last month, alleging it was wrongfully profiting off her creativity and violating the intent of her artwork. The lawsuit, which is seeking nearly 130,000 euros ($160,000) in damages, said the Vatican never responded officially to Babrow’s attempts to negotiate a settlement after she discovered it had used her image without consent and sold it.
“I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought it was a joke,” Babrow told The Associated Press in an interview, standing steps from St. Peter’s Square. “The real shock was that you don’t expect certain things from certain organizations.”
The Vatican is home to some of the greatest artworks ever made, and it vigorously enforces its copyright over everything from the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo’s Pieta. But now the tables have turned, and the Vatican stands accused of violating the intellectual property rights of a street artist.
The Vatican stamp office declined to comment on the lawsuit, said its chief, Massimo Olivieri. The Vatican press office also declined requests for comment.
Copyright lawyers familiar with the case say it is an important benchmark for Italy and evidence of the increasing appreciation for Banksy-style street art. They say it underscores that even anonymous graffiti or “guerrilla art” deserves protection against unauthorized corporate merchandising, or, in this case, church merchandising.
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“The law does not discriminate,” Bonadio said in a phone interview. “Copyright laws do not subject the protection of an artwork to the fact that it is in a gallery or a museum.”
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