The Vatican Announces Plan To Protect Pope Francis' Publicity Rights

from the holy-shit dept

The Catholic Church has made some noises in recent years about attempts to modernize itself for the digital age. This modernization has taken different forms, from the Vatican attempting to create a special copyright over all things Pope some years back to selling indulgences in exchange for Pope-level Twitter followers. Somewhat strangely, the Church’s last Pope actually spoke out against overreaching intellectual property, which appears to be at odds with the current Vatican administration.

That’s because the Vatican recently came out and suggested that it will soon begin strictly policing the way the images of Pope Francis and certain Vatican iconography are used by third parties.

“The secretary of state will undertake systematic surveillance aimed at monitoring the way in which the image of the Holy Father and the emblems of the Holy See are used, intervening with opportune measures when necessary,” the Vatican said in a statement.

To back up this declaration, the Vatican has hired the global law firm Baker McKenzie to protect its intellectual property rights, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported. without citing the source of the information. Baker McKenzie declined to comment.

Now, I was raised Catholic, and this all feels a little off. To start, there are some pretty clear passages from the Old Testament about making a big thing out of symbols and idols. I’m not saying that claiming dominion over the images of the Pope and Vatican symbols violates those passages, but it does seem to me that this is something of an effort to plunge His Holiness into the murky depths of celebrity culture. After all, while the language bandied about deals with copyright, much of this seems to actually be more in line with trademark and publicity rights.

“The pope’s image rights are no different from those of any other famous celebrity and so it’s not surprising that the Vatican is giving notice that it will protect its (intellectual property) rights as necessary,” said Nick Kounoupias, the founder of an intellectual property consultancy in London.

And it’s perfectly fine if the Pope wants to remake himself in the image of Lindsay Lohan. I’m just not sure it squares with the humble texts upon which his empire is built.

But what seems completely strange to me is the fear of the internet that is animating this action.

“It’s not new that people were selling T-shirts of the pope, but (previously) those were probably little local vendors,” said Mark McKenna, an intellectual property expert at the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana.

What’s changed is the magnitude of what can be produced and how quickly it can be distributed through online platforms.

“In a world of Etsy, you are able to do it on a bigger scale,” he said.

Why? It seems to me that one of the chief aims of the church has always been proselytizing and clamping down on the method in which members of the Church, or even non-members, share the images and messages of the Pope, which seems counterproductive. I’m not saying I don’t see why the Vatican might bristle if those images are used to blaspheme rather than venerate the Pope or the Church. But chilling the spreading of the message to combat this seems like the wrong approach, one borrowed more from the entertainment industry than a soul-saving operation.

Or maybe it all comes down to money.

On the Vatican website, one can buy Francis medals, icons and rosary boxes. The Vatican museum boutiques offer silk ties and scarves and watches showing scenes from Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And that may be part of the Vatican’s motivation in safeguarding Francis’ face – and warning that they will challenge the copycats.

“It’s probably also the case that there is some genuine commercial motivation,” McKenna said. “They want to be sure they’re the only ones selling this stuff.”

Just like Jesus would do, right?

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Comments on “The Vatican Announces Plan To Protect Pope Francis' Publicity Rights”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Just like Jesus would do, right?

I see what you did there!

Ahem. Aside from religious, commercial or whatever issues this is counterproductive to the very goal of evangelizing the peoples of the world. These images, the information, they are ways of spreading the Catholic faith/wisdom/whatever to the world.

And there’s the fact that buying stuff from some Etsy of the world is quite different from buying the original thing which is often offered with added blessings from the Pope/Church. So I don’t think these alternative products actually compete with what’s sold by the Vatican itself. (Even if you disagree with such practices it’s a fact)

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Just like Jesus would do, right?

Yes! Because connect with faithful / reason to buy. (Or believe.)

Yes, I am sure ppl on Etsy are making more than some other outfits have in the past with pope t-shirts. This smells more just like someone convinced the hierarchy that this is modernization, or someone is having a control freak problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

My entire life, both sides of my family, I was raised Catholic. The one thing I grew up with was the fact that the bible says not to worship idols or false Gods and this is exactly what they are trying to turn the Pope into. Being Catholic, I’m offended by this move by the Catholic Church to turn Pope Francis into a false God, an idol, to be worshipped.

I’m actually starting to believe all of those religious doomsday scenarios that have proclaimed that Pope Francis will leave the Catholic Church and become an influential leader of Satan’s church that will signal the end times.

Every Catholic should be very worried over this move.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

The Vatican museum boutiques offer silk ties and scarves and watches showing scenes from Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And that may be part of the Vatican’s motivation in safeguarding Francis’ face – and warning that they will challenge the copycats.

That would mean a copyright term of life of the artist plus 500+ years. Somewhere a US trade negotiator just had a Stimulating Personal Moment.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am not religious whatsoever but I believe that religion has always been a tool to control people. Now that they are getting less relevant in western countries they will use more laws to stay relevant as long as they can. It’s sounds a lot like what the movie industrie is doing. To me anyways but that’s just my opinion.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t get me started on the Prosperity Gospel…! As a Christian I find it repugnant. Relevant scripture:

It’s human nature to blame the victim when something goes wrong for them — it comes from an authoritarian mindset — but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Victim-blaming is the flip side of the Prosperity Gospel; it’s why all right-minded people should reject it. Every philosophy I’ve ever seen, including the political ones (I’m looking at you, Libertarianism!) seems to have some version of it even if they won’t admit to it., paragraph 14

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