Italy is worldwide famous for its unique cultural heritage. Not surprisingly, Italian laws have been enacted in the years to regulate its exploitation, management and enjoyment by the public. The main law currently governing this subject matter is Legislative Decree no. 42/2004, setting the rules applicable for the protection and development of the Italian heritage.
It is such Decree that establishes the rules to follow to reproduce an asset eligible for protection as cultural heritage. According to article 107 of the Decree, “the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the other public entities having rights on a cultural asset may authorize its reproduction and use, save […] for the provisions on copyright“. Article 108 identifies the rules applicable to calculate the amount of the fees to be paid for said reproduction, stating that “the concession fees and the consideration related to the reproduction of cultural assets shall be determined by the entity having right on the same asset, taking into account: a) the type of activity for which the concession is granted; b) the means and ways used to carry out the reproduction; c) the type and time of use of both the location and assets; d) the intended use of the reproduction and the economic benefits for the applicant“. No fee is due in case of reproductions made by individuals for personal use or for the purpose of study nor by private entities for cultural heritage development purposes, as long as the reproduction is carried out not for profit. The concession fees for each type of use are set by Ministerial Decree of 8 April 1994, without prejudice to the right of each entity or other administrative bodies to provide for different concession fees.
Although these rules have been set out years ago, almost no case law have dealt with unauthorized reproductions of the Italian heritage so far (and – we believe – not because of lack of violations but, most likely, for lack of interest in enforcing such rights). Overcoming such trend, two recent Italian decisions addressed the issue of commercially exploiting a cultural asset without having obtained the previous authorization from the entity in charge and, thus, without having paid the concession fee. More precisely, they determined the rules to follow when using photographs reproducing an asset which is eligible for protection under the Decree and, in particular, a work of art kept within a museum, and thus accessible only upon purchase of the ticket entrance, and one which is part of the city landscape and thus visible by anyone without restrictions.
- The first decision concerns the worldwide famous statue of David by Michelangelo. The statue is kept within the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, which are thus, according to the Decree, the legal entity having rights on the statue.
Uffizi Galleries sued a travel agency that was using on its promotional materials – including its brochures and website – photographs of the David and of the same Uffizi Galleries. According to Uffizi such uses constituted a violation of articles 107 and 108 of the Decree on the basis that (i) the statue was eligible for protection under the Decree, (ii) the use of an image embodying David shall be considered a reproduction under the Decree, (iii) such reproduction had never been authorized by Uffizi Galleries and (iv) no consideration was paid by the travel agency. The Court of Florence upheld Uffizi Galleries’ arguments and declared that the promotional use of the image representing the David made by the travel agency was unlawful under the Decree, granting an injunction to use the image of David in Italy and in Europe and ordering the immediate withdrawal from the market and destruction of any material embodying such image (see decision here).
It is worth noticing that the injunction granted to the Uffizi Gallery is not limited to the Italian territory but encompasses the whole Europe. The enforceability of the decision at stake outside Italy, however, is not immediate and triggers a number of doubts. The absence of supranational and international regulations applicable to the world cultural heritage excludes the possibility to automatically apply the decision abroad. Also, it is uncertain whether Regulation no 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments would be deemed applicable to this type of decisions as it applies only to civil and commercial matters, while administrative matters are expressly excluded. It seems odd that, in a field as international as culture, there are no instruments to effectively and easily stop the unlawful reproduction of an Italian cultural asset carried in a foreign country, with which Italy has not entered into a specific international agreement prohibiting such reproduction, unless a cross-border decision recognizable in such a State is granted.
2. The above legal framework is somehow complicated when the cultural asset is located in an open-air space. Any control of third parties reproductions is complex, not to say impossible. This is the case of the Teatro Massimo of Palermo, the biggest opera house in Italy, designed by the Italian architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile at the end of the XIX century and reputed for its peculiar architecture and acoustic.
Again, the Court of Palermo upheld the arguments of the Teatro Massimo Foundation that sued a bank for having used an image reproducing the theater palace (seen from outside, as in the picture above and decision here) in an advertising campaign on billboards and boards on the basis of articles 107 and 108 of the Decree. The bank questioned any violation of the Decree, stating that no rights can be claimed on reproductions of the outside architecture of a cultural asset which is part of the city landscape, that shall be considered in public domain as visible by anyone.
In such a scenario, the freedom of panorama doctrine comes into play. As known, its role is very different in the various jurisdictions. As far as Italy is concerned, the freedom of panorama is not recognized. Italian copyright law does not provide a specific exemption in this respect. Similarly, the Decree does not distinguish cultural heritage which is part of the Italian landscape from assets kept within closed areas, accessible only upon certain conditions. The Decree applies to both, as reiterated by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in the interrogation available here.
Truth is that the application of the above rules leave room for many doubts: from the definition of “reproduction” to the limits to the entity’s discretion. That said, the above decisions seem to ring a bell to all entities having rights on Italian cultural heritage: Italian Courts could be favorable to recognize the right to concession fees in case of commercial reproductions, wherever made and independently from the type of asset concerned. This could be connected to the fact that concession fees appear to be aimed at granting an income to the entity having rights on the cultural asset, so to support its development, an ambition that is clearly stated in the Decree. Moreover, one of the Decree goals seems to be ensuring to the entities having rights a sort of control over third parties reproductions of the cultural asset, through the pre-authorization process. In this way, the entity may deny the authorization in case of uses that might result detrimental to the protection and development of the cultural heritage, as conceived by the single entity having rights.
Maria Luigia Franceschelli
Court of Florence, 26 October 2017, case No. 13758/2017 and Court of Palermo, 21 September 2017, case No. 4901/2017