Italian Officials Claim American Gun Ad Featuring Michelangelo's David Is 'Illegal'

from the but-is-it? dept

Somehow the word "copyright" is being thrown around in relation to a 500-year-old statue. Any reasonable person would assume the word "copyright" shouldn't come within 350 years of any creation, but that's how the story's being presented. (h/t to Techdirt reader WulfTheSaxon)

Italy's culture minister has expressed outrage over an advertisement by a US weapons firm showing Michelangelo's David holding a rifle. Dario Franceschini said the image was offensive and violated the law.

A number of Italian media web sites carried the image of the advertisement showing David holding a bolt-action rifle. The advertisement, from Illinois-based ArmaLite, carries the line "a work of art" in promoting the $3,000 rifle. Mr Franceschini urged the company to withdraw the advertisement for the AR-50A1.

He said in a tweet: "The image of David, armed, offends and infringes the law. We will take action against the American company so that it immediately withdraws its campaign."
First off, the ad itself is over a year old, as Sara Morrison at The Wire points out. The ad was originally tweeted by Armalite back in May of 2013. This ad, however, was only recently published in Italy, hence the sudden outrage.
Now, as for the claim of copyright… that doesn't seem to be exactly what's being claimed here. (And, indeed, none of the officials quoted actually use the word "copyright," instead claiming the ad "distorts" the original work. That term is deployed solely by reporting on the event.) The country of Italy "owns" Michelangelo's statue of David (finished in 1504), although the piece itself resides in Florence, a claim not without its own controversy. (Italy claimed the statue in 2010, something that enraged Florence officials who firmly believed that statue belonged to the city that had hosted it since its completion.)

What Italian officials actually seem to be claiming is control over use of images of the sculpture, which is adjacent to copyright, but not entirely the same thing.
Cristina Acidini, Florence superintendent for history and fine arts, condemned the company’s use of the image and also urged ArmaLite to immediately withdraw it.

“To use a work of art from any of the Florence museums for promotional purposes, it is necessary to obtain an evaluation of how the image may be used,” Miss Acidini said. “No-one ever agreed to that.”
What's being stated here sounds more like publicity rights. Florence officials are seeking to control use of David's "image" in advertising. ("Image" in this case being the collective perception of a cultural icon, rather than a photograph.) Italy may technically "own" the sculpture (as much as anyone can "own" a cultural icon), but it can't claim to control the copyright, which has long since expired. (And that's even under Italy's restrictive laws which make no allowances for fair use and include dubious "moral rights" as part of the copyright package.)

So, Florence effectively controls use of images (photos) of the sculpture, and is trying to assert some form of publicity rights on behalf of a statue. It can't lock anyone out from producing their own David sculptures, but what museum officials have done instead is prevent anyone from producing their own images. The museum has a strict "no photography" policy which means that any photos of David are controlled by the museum. (There doesn't seem to any similar policy restricting photography of the replica located elsewhere in Florence.) In this fashion, Florence officials can seek to control of David's use in commercial works via copyright law, even if what's being detailed here seems to rely more on outrage over "distorting" the sculpture's iconic status than any true legal basis.

But this assertion of control over a cultural icon is still specious, as even the Florence superintendent of fine arts seems to realize. As Cristina Acidini says at ilpost.com, it's an "international event" but "I cannot, of course, send the FBI after Armalite." Instead, she intends to use the court of public opinion to render a verdict in the museum's favor and shame ArmaLite into dumping the ad.
"But I intend to use all the possibilities of reaction... starting with the 'moral persuasion' and scandal in the newspapers."
So, what we have is a copyright-esque assertion being used to shame a gun manufacturer into dropping an ad that has offended cultural sensibilities halfway around the world (ArmaLite is based in Illinois). At the center of it all is a 500-year-old sculpture currently in the public domain, but controlled by "adjacent" copyright measures. In the end, all these Italian officials have is their offended sensibilities, which really isn't enough to justify their demands.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Ninja (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 3:57am

    Yes, because Michelangelo needs the extra income to support his afterlife. Oh wait, don't tell me he reincarnated...

     

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    Duke (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 4:24am

    Reading the IPKat's coverage of this story it seems that Italy may have a specific law providing rights in relation to classical art works. So it is a form of special statutory "copyright" (in the sense that it prohibits copying), that seems to be unique to Italy.

    Although now I'm wondering if a case could be made that it violates some kind of EU law.

     

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    Beta (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 5:23am

    Art History majors, to arms!

    "The image of David, armed, offends and infringes the law."

    Does that mean they'll be chiseling away the sling?

     

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    mcinsand, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 5:32am

    no doubt Disney is drooling

    I can just imagine the execs at Disney drooling over the possibility of extending copyright to 500 years or more. All too quickly, the concept of public domain is fading into the past.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 5:40am

    In the end, all these Italian officials have is their offended sensibilities,

    The end result of political correctness, offending an official is a crime.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 5:50am

    Mr Franceschini is a schmuck and an ad seems kool.

     

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    Bt Garner (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 6:22am

    So, would it be okay if ArmaLite used a picture of Rodin's The Thinker, with a thought bubble above his head featuring Michelangelo's David with the gun?

     

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    techflaws (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:14am

    You're welcome.

     

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    Feldie47 (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:22am

    Shaming a gun manufacturer? Wow, That's a challenge.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 12:06am

      Re:

      Actually surprisingly easy to do, all you need to do is prove that their guns are blatantly shitty and overpriced and outperformed by far cheaper alternatives. (See Monster Cables).

       

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    Anshar (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:30am

    Time

    …the ad itself is over a year old…
    Just want to point out that May 15, 2013 to March 11, 2014 is less than one year, not "over a year".

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    "But I intend to use all the possibilities of reaction... starting with the 'moral persuasion' and scandal in the newspapers."
    Yeah, a bunch of foreigners trying to trample on an American gun manufacturer's First Amendment rights is going to cause a scandal, all right. Just not the expected one.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    At first I thought 'that's a fucking ridiculous image and it offends my sensibilities but I can't see any justification for suppressing it because this copyright-adjacent malarky should be dismissed as bullshit,' then I wondered, isn't this image a great ironic commentary on how art has been commercialised to the point that 'art' is now more often than not a selling point for a commercial product, and how many consumers can view mass-produced products as 'artistic' in the same way unique hand-crafted works are considered artistic? Doesn't it also highlight how most consumers actually value these mass-produced commercial products much higher than any traditional 'work of art'? Moreover, is it not also a critique of adverts for other similar products, for example cars, where the adverts constantly talk about the beauty and the art of the product, and so this advert has merely taken that comparison a step further? And if so, isn't it proof that media built purely for the purpose of selling commercial products can itself be a complex work of art?

     

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      MrWilson, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 6:12pm

      Re:

      In the age of near-infinite reproducibility, you can have famous artworks printed on toilet paper and literally wipe your ass with the Mona Lisa. The practical reality is that you have to just get over uses of works that offend you (or don't get over it and make money off of ranting about it if someone will pay you to do that...).

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:51am

    ArmaLite's tweet is gone. Censorship at the speed of the Internet.

     

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    Mal, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:56am

    Some years ago (I think in the 1990s) Italy passed a widely ignored law claiming that all great artworks in public collections as well as buildings (e.g., the facade of a church designed by Bernini) were national patrimony and could only be used for commercial purposes by permission.

    Meanwhile, in US copyright law some photographs of artworks are copyrightable - specifically, the photo of a 3D work is deemed not to be a slavish copy but to have some degree of new creative content (see widely cited decision i Bridgeman v. Corel and subsequent case law).

    Museums in the US and EU often post signs saying "no photographs" or "no photography for commercial purposes." The downstream commercial user of a photo is then deemed to have violated that contract.

    But it would be hard for Italy to prove that a particular stock-house photo of the David was not made with permission - or even to identify a particular photo out of the millions people take every year.

    The whole thing is just silly in this instance, but sadly, these sorts of restrictions hamper the use of public-domain art images constantly, especially in art books.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 8:03am

    Streisand much?

    My guess is Armalite sales just got a shot in the arm (pardon the pun).

     

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    Pixelation, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 8:10am

    "The image of David, armed, offends and infringes the law. We will take action against the American company so that it immediately withdraws its campaign."

    An Italian official has just purchased from Armalite...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 8:48am

    How exactly is an armed David offensive. Now if somehow it wasn't David but Venus di Milo that was armed...

     

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    DOlz (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 10:13am

    And now

    What we need now is a draw David Mohammad day.

     

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    btr1701 (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 10:47am

    Policy

    > The museum has a strict "no photography" policy
    > which means that any photos of David are controlled
    > by the museum.

    Not really. If you violate their policy, you can be trespassed and told to leave, and maybe fined, but your violation of museum policy doesn't give the museum control of the photo you took. You still own that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 10:59am

    "The image of David, armed, offends..."

    David was a pretty bad-ass dude. After the whole sling-rock thing, he chopped off Goliath's head with Goliath's own sword, and then proceeded to run around causing mayhem (conquest of Jerusalem, anyone?). He would have loved an assault rifle.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:17am

    Moral right

    If anyone has the right to be outraged, that some asshat officials try to lock away ("no photography") their cultural heritage, it's the public.

     

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    ShivaFang (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 10:49am

    By trying to 'shame' them in the newspaper all you are doing is giving them more publicity.

    Anyone with any common sense would agree that a 500 year old statue is 'fair game' for use in advertising.

     

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