Old Lady Ruins Fresco, Claims Copyright, Demands Money

from the turn-jesus-into-a-hairy-monkey...-turn-a-profit? dept

Remember that sweet octogenarian lady in Spain who tried to restore a 19th-century fresco “Ecce Homo” and ended up producing something that the BBC’s Europe correspondent described as “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic”? Remember how the poor woman had an anxiety attack as a result of the criticism she received, but that everything worked out fine when her work became an Internet meme, and sightseers started flocking to see it?

According to a story pointed out to us by @sinkdeep, that sweet octogenarian lady is back, accompanied now by her lawyers, claiming copyright on her work and demanding a cut of the takings from the collection box that the church authorities have placed near the fresco (original in Spanish.)

It would be fascinating to know where the idea came from: whether somebody suggested to her that she had a “right” to some of the church’s money, or whether the sense of entitlement — in this case for more or less ruining an admittedly minor work of art — is now so widespread that everyone, everywhere, naturally assumes they ought to get their cut as soon as money is involved. Either way, it’s a sad commentary on our times — and on what a belief in copyright can do to otherwise generous people.

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Comments on “Old Lady Ruins Fresco, Claims Copyright, Demands Money”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Well of course!

She did some work, she’s entitled to be paid for it!

Say you’re going to build a house – you have all the materials delivered on Friday, but when you show up on Monday to begin work, you discover that I’ve already used the materials to build the house.

Since I did so much work, obviously the house is mine, and you should have to pay me to live there! It doesn’t matter that it’s a bungalow when you wanted a two-storey, or that the square footage is wrong – I did the work, I should be compensated!



MrWilson says:

I think it’s fine that she gets a cut of the donations. And like a musician’s cut of the proceeds of album sales, it’ll be a piddly percent and she won’t see a cent until the church recoups the amount of money it will take to restore the painting to a decent level of quality by a real restoration artist. So she’ll see a cut of the donations around her 160th birthday!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And so the Monkey Jesus descended from the heavens in an ill fitting tunic. He decided to punish the women for her greed by draining the potassium from the woman’s body, stealing her supply of bananas, and throwing feces in her face. If she displeases the Monkey Jesus once more, she shall be turned to stone, but not without devolving, growing an absurd amount of body hair, and her clothes transforming into an ill-fitting tunic.

Tunnen (profile) says:

Doubling down on the fail….

But ignoring the fact that she ruined the original painting, which I think she should be charged with vandalism, and also that she’s trying to claim partial ownership of the item she defaced. Trying to dip your hand into the church’s coin purse is one of the craziest things I think you could do.

1) If she’s religious, I hope she enjoys a very warm afterlife. I doubt He would be too happy about defacing a portrait of His son. I’m also sure He wouldn’t approve of her taking money for her personal use that could be used to help those who need the help the most.
2) I have a feeling that the Church has a whole arsenal of lawyers that will crush this lawsuit faster then a blackhole could.
3) If she thought the anxiety she suffered from the original criticism was bad, I hope she has a group of health care professionals on 24 hour standby, this next anxiety attack will be going nuclear.

Tunnen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m not overly fond of the Church myself. I tend to identify myself as agnostic, though I’m think I’m technically Christian (Baptized, attended church at a young age, etc).

But looking at the bigger picture, the Church is a large entity. From my understanding, they are also very protective of their donations/collections. Trying to sue the Church, in my mind, would be like trying to sue a large corporation like Apple. Both will have a large army of lawyers that will crush you. They both also have fanatic fanbases that will torment you.

I personally would not try my luck at attacking a bees nest only to get a small lick of honey. But then again, I would never have attempted to restore something beyond my skill level and without permission. Though, I think both of these thoughts fall into that “common sense” category that seems to be on the endangered list. =P

Scott Schultz (user link) says:

A weird twist to this

Ordinarily I would probably rush to judgement about this woman trying to profit from her defacement of an historical painting. After all, if the church is actually collecting funds, those are almost certainly intended to be spent on a real restoration of the original, not as an endorsement of the “update”.

However, a funny thing happened just a couple of days ago.

I received notification from Facebook that The Sims Social had a “free item” for me. (Sims Social is a facebook-based version of The Sims, the popular game from Maxis/EA.)

The in-game item in question was, you guessed it, a rendition of this woman’s painting to hang on the wall of your Sim’s house. Why? Who knows? Did they license it from her or from the church? Unlikely. Should they have? If her lawyers find out about it, maybe it will be tested in court.

Maxis is making money off of her work, in a roundabout way. They aren’t selling it directly but they are using it as an enticement to get people to play their game or at least login long enough to claim the item and hang it up in their virtual domicile.

The thing is, copyright doesn’t depend upon commercialization. Technically speaking, this woman’s painting was copyrighted (I think, I’m not an arts lawyer) as soon as she touched brush to plaster.

If Maxis is profiting (or attempting to profit) from her work, then how many other business are there out there making tee-shirts or novelty/parody items that are also attempting to commercialize her painting?

As stupid as it sounds, this woman may be just the exact sort of person that copyright law is designed to protect. It may be seem ludicrous given the circumstances of the painting’s creation, but it’s other people who are turning this painting from a personal embarrassment into a commercial enterprise. If that happens, then who’s to say that she shouldn’t control what happens to it and how profits from it?

Tunnen (profile) says:

Re: Re: A weird twist to this

Wouldn’t this be more like vandalism? I don’t think the Church ever gave her permission to attempt the restoration. She took it upon herself. I may be wrong though, I only saw a news summary when it happened and what people said about it.

The summary I read said that an appraiser went to the church to take a look at the painting to determine the cost to restore the original damage. When the appraiser was shown to the painting by church staff, they were stunned. They originally thought someone intentionally vandalized it, until the women eventually came forth and admitted what she had done.

FuzzyDuck says:

Re: A weird twist to this

Now if I photograph a building, even if I didn’t build the building, I own the copyrights on the photograph. So if I photograph a painting I should also own the copyrights on the photograph… or not?

Also the physical painting belongs to the church, it’s the only copy around, the original. Doesn’t the church then also own the copyrights?

Copyright gets complicated quickly.

RD says:

Re: Re: A weird twist to this

“Now if I photograph a building, even if I didn’t build the building, I own the copyrights on the photograph. So if I photograph a painting I should also own the copyrights on the photograph… or not?”

The answer to this is, YES! After all, if a gallery can claim copyright on pictures YOU take of paintings in their gallery, you can likewise (good for the gander after all! the law applies to everyone!) claim copyright on things you have no claim over!

Brewster Jennings says:

Re: A weird twist to this

Well, I don’t know about the EC, but in the U.S., she has no case. From U.S. Copyright law:

? 103 . Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative works
(a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.

(b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

Material “Used Unlawfully” doesn’t just refer to the unlawful use of Intellectual Property in a derivative work. When the woman committed an act of vandalism to create her “art”, I believe she either automatically forfeited her Intellectual Property rights to the Church, the owner of the original work, or automatically created a Creative Commons work, since the original was already out of copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A weird twist to this

Guys… As someone who works in the art restoration industry (actually restoring frames, but working closing with art conservators), the vandalism issue doesn’t even need to be brought up to answer this: If someone restores a painting, they have no copyright on it. I’m a contractor, essentially; I’ve restored frames for a private collection including Manets and Van Goghs, and all I got paid for was restoring the ornamentation and re-gilding them. If I got a piece every time they were shown in a museum, I’d be a much richer man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: A weird twist to this

Oh, also, if she should be suing anyone, it shouldn’t be for copyright. She’d get a whole lot farther on the basis of “personal distress and public humiliation” caused by the church for letting reporters in without consulting her, then settling by asking the church for a contribution to her charity. Boom. Monies.

Tunnen (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think defacing a portrait of His son then also even thinking about trying to dip her hand into the donation box has already got herself a nice warm seat reserved in the afterlife…

Assuming that she can’t repent or otherwise clear herself of sin before then. (I’m not very good with religious doctrine. I don’t know the in and outs about what can and can not be forgiven)

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

This is the most awesome idea ever! It will both revolutionize and save the entertainment industry.

Just think of it. Give musicians and their record labels a cut of all proceeds from the restaurants and bars around concert venues. Movie producers can take the theaters and TV stations can stick their hands in the pockets of all those places, assuming they have TVs, and all kinds of other businesses who put in a TV “for their customers’ convenience.” Convenience my ass! You’re all just a bunch of thieves.

Heck, why bother with all the geographic details. Let’s just assume anyone who gets money from the public is freeloading off some copyright holder, impose a fair tax (25% of revenue sounds reasonable) and let them fight among themselves to divide it up.

RD says:

Dear Big Media

Dear Big Media,

I just have one thing to say to you, which will sum up everything you have done wrong to push stronger copyright laws on the world:


You have done so well in criminalizing copyright violations, while at the same time vastly expanding not only the types of things that copyright covers, but the extent to which those things are covered, all wrapped up in that wonderful 1976 “automatic copyright” clause, that you have created a gigantic and endemic Copyright Entitlement Mentality in every single person on the planet. This will now come back to bite you in the ass, as everyone (and I mean, the little people, not Big Media) will now feel compelled to “get theirs” at any cost, and over even the slightest whiff of anything remotely resembling a copyright violation. For now, its the little people eating each others lunch, but soon this will grow and they will be coming after you. At whatever point Google takes a hand, and turns its (thanks to you) now-near-infinite copyright hammer to your violating nail, you will know the pain everyone else has had to suffer under for the last 40-odd years or so.


Everyone You Have Screwed

Anonymous Coward says:

Think of the Taggers

I think the really sad part of all this is that people are actually willing to pay money to look at this thing!

PT Barnum already said it, so I won’t.

But then this also begs the questions:

Do Taggers get to copyright their work even tho they’re charged with vandalism?

Can the property owner remove graffiti if it’s copyrighted?

Now my head hurts.

Koa (user link) says:

Jesus /"restoration"

She should get paid for her work? She now has copyright on it? Really!? That’s like a photographer setting up a shoot. Pays for the props, pays rent on the studio, pays for the models, makeup artists and hair stylist. The photographer then sends the completed images to a retoucher. Once completed, the retoucher claims copyright on the image. Get real!

Dana says:

This isn’t about a belief in copyright. This is about a misunderstanding of what copyright is *for*. Of course, Spain probably enforces copyright differently (in some ways) than we do here in the U.S., but still.

Although, hilariously enough, if she’d done her little painting here and the church had commissioned it, the copyright would have belonged to *them.*

But yeah. You better bet actual artists believe in copyright. And it gives me no end of conniption fits that the same folks who tell artists they can’t make a living from their work, then turn around and merrily *steal* said work so that the artists really won’t make a living after all.

theforestman (user link) says:


the saying “adding insult to injury” is just not enough in this case. I wonder on what ground lawyers would claim this?
It’s like if someone breaks into your house, destroy everything, you put pictures of in on the web, it becomes viral and donation comes in to help you rebuild, and then, out of the blue, the guy who destroyed everything claims part of the money donated for his contribution to your newly gained wealth… I am not particularly in favor of the church (for unrelated reasons) but this is some really screwed up logic here.

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