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Even the Vatican Is Not Immune from Trademark Infringement Lawsuits

Suing the Vatican does not seem like an easy thing to do (it must be especially difficult to serve process on the Pope or his Boss), but Rome street artist Alessia Babrow has done just that, claiming that the Vatican had used an image she created on its 2020 Easter stamp without her permission.

According to Babrow, she created and then glued a stylized image of Christ on a bridge near the Holy City one night in early 2019 not realizing the subsequent events that and (copyright) controversy that would unfold. Babrow is well known for a stylized heart she created and has used in many other works of art. The image in questions features Christ with his hands raised and his eyes looking to the heavens while wearing a variation of Babrow’s heart and the words “Just Use It.”


Babrow's original piece was based on a famous work by 19th Century German artist Heinrich Hofman and continues a series of pieces she has created since 2013 which have included similar hearts and messages on images of Buddha, the Hindu deity Ganesha, and the Virgin Mary. Other street artists, Banksy comes to mind, have faced similar challenges when their "guerrilla art" has been commercialized without their permission.


The lawsuit alleges that the Vatican city-state’s telecommunications office in Rome (which is in charge of licensing images for use on such things as commemorative stamps) wrongfully profited offer Babrow’s creativity and violated the (nonprofit) intent of her original artwork. The suit is seeking $160,000 in monetary damages after the Vatican allegedly never responded to the artist’s attempts to negotiate a settlement when she discovered the nonconsensual use of her image for profit.


The lawsuit alleges that the Vatican city-state’s telecommunications office in Rome (which is in charge of licensing images for use on such things as commemorative stamps) wrongfully profited offer Babrow’s creativity and violated the (nonprofit) intent of her original artwork. The suit is seeking $160,000 in monetary damages after the Vatican allegedly never responded to the artist’s attempts to negotiate a settlement when she discovered the nonconsensual use of her image for profit.


In an interview earlier this year, Babrow told The Associated Press, “I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought it was a joke.” Continuing, she told the interviewer, “The real shock was that you don’t expect certain things from certain organizations.”

Italian copyright lawyers already have opined that the Vatican’s status as a sovereign state is unlikely to protect it from an Italian court’s jurisdiction given that the use involved commercial activity and the alleged damage to Babrow occurred in Italy.

At press time, there was no word from Nike on whether it, too, might not get in on the infringement litigation action.


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