Why the trial against Ravensburger for the unauthorized use of the image of the Vitruvian Man was a serious mistake

Mar 19, 2023

Ravensburger has a puzzle in its catalog that reproduces the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, and for this reason, it has been the subject of an order by the Venice Court, which condemns it to pay the rights dof reproduction of this image.

The process was initiated by the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice, and it is the first time that the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage has been applied to activities carried out abroad through the court system.

The Code of Cultural Heritage provides that the reproduction of public cultural goods (for commercial purposes) must be authorized by the entity that has custody of the goods, upon payment of a fee.

This obviously clashes with the principles and purposes that underlie the very existence of cultural institutions, which are in place to allow public cultural institutions to fully pursue their institutional purposes of promoting, preserving, and disseminating cultural heritage, in the spirit of Article 9 of the Italian Constitution, which assigns to the Republic the task of promoting the development of knowledge and research.

In this sense, the European Commission issued a first Recommendation in 2006 (August 24) and a second in 2011 (October 27), encouraging Member States to review their regulatory systems in order to promote projects for the digitization and networking of cultural heritage.

And it is in 2019 that EU Directive 790 was issued (which gave Member States until June 7, 2021, to implement it) on copyright in the digital single market, which requires the removal of related rights on images reproducing works of visual arts in the public domain if “the resulting act of reproduction is not an original work” such as the faithful reproduction that Ravensburg made for its puzzle.

The European Commission, of course, does not act with unfounded impositions. In Italy, for example, it has responded to the appeal of numerous important associations representing the cultural sector.

As Giuliano Volpe wrote in Huffington Post, “we fear commodification but we do not consider that it is the State that becomes a merchant, profiting from the ‘exploitation’ of cultural goods (with economic returns that are quite modest, given the burden of work and personnel costs for the management of very complex procedures), while it should instead promote the economic development of a territory through the enhancement of its cultural heritage.

Moreover, putting obstacles to the use of images of our cultural heritage abroad will only serve to marginalize our country. Instead of using the image of the Vitruvian Man, for example, we will use the image of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring“, an artist who is certainly inferior to Leonardo, but on whom the Netherlands has managed to create such an expectation that it has obtained a sold-out exhibition for the first time in history even before its opening, while, let us remember, we have not even been able to put on a serious exhibition on Leonardo in the year of the 500th anniversary.

Our works will disappear from the collective imagination, and this will result in a decrease in our “appeal,” less encouragement to visit them, and therefore fewer tourists, who are the real economic engine of the cultural sector.

The principles of the Faro Convention, ratified by Parliament, which have recognized the individual and collective right “to benefit from cultural heritage and to contribute to its enrichment” (Article 4) and promote processes of economic as well as political, social and cultural development (Article 8) have inspired a growing number of cultural institutions around the world, such as the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library, the Getty Research Institute, the Rijksmuseum, the National Library of Spain, the National Museum of Stockholm, and the National Gallery of Denmark, which have adopted the slogan: It’s your cultural heritage. Use it!

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Anna Pelagotti
Anna Pelagotti