Pictures of the Colosseum? Only if you buy the right shoes first /img/320px-Colosseum_in_Rome_Italy_-_April_2007.jpg

By now, you probably have already heard that many italian Public Administrations, at all levels, are full of debts. What you probably do not know yet, is one consequence of one of these situation that may have negative consequences for you even if you run a non italian business, or are a travel blogger.

One of the less known and most absurd sides of italian copyright law is that “basically that you are not allowed to walk around in Italy, take a picture of some historical building and put it on your website without asking prior permission to the government”. Some italian cities are starting to “free” their own monuments from this absurd restriction (hooray for Pavia, and for Simone Cortesi who made that happen!)

For one of the most famous monuments of the whole world, the Colosseum in Rome, the situation is different, even more absurd than for other monuments. I confess I don’t know why I discovered this whole story only today, since it went public more than one year ago, but here it is.

Here is an excerpt from the article Solo Scarpe al Colosseo (Only Shoes in the Colosseum) by italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, on April 3rd, 2011:

The image of the most famous italian monument of the world has been handed over to Tod’s, the private shoe making company that will sponsor its restoration with 25 million Euros. That image is not freely usable anymore by the Ministry of Cultural Goods.

If the italian State wanted to lease the Colosseum to some movie company, or as a location or background for some advertising spot, or grant any other “commercial” usage, it should ask for permission to both Tod’s and to an association (of which Tod’s will be a major member).

The “advertising spot” issue is not theoretical. Il Fatto writes that Volskwagen wanted to use just the Colosseum as location to launch some new car model, but the authorization procedure was put on hold just because of the deal with Tod’s. For this and other reasons, including the fact that such a monopoly would be worth 200, not 25 million Euros, an official request to verify the legitimacy of the deal was presented in 2011. A Consumer Association also asked for an investigation, prompting Tod’s CEO, Della Valle, to declare in January 2012 that the whole situation made him very bitter. As of July 31st, 2012, that investigation is still ongoing, and (not only for that reason, as I understand) the start of restoration works has been delayed to December 2012.

Certain exclusive rights not only were absurd to begin with, but here they have been given to a private company. This, however, is a local issue, that is something only we Italians should care about, and probably feel embarrassed. Where it gets interesting is that these exclusive rights are granted to Tod’s until 2 years after the end of restoration, and to the association for 15 years, “without any territorial limitation and can therefore be enforced even outside Italy”.

Now, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less if Volkswagen or any other foreign multinational with plenty of money is not allowed to shot spots in Italy. However, taking the deal to the letter, everybody worldwide willing to use the Colosseum image for “commercial purposes” is assumed to get permission from a private company first. Including travel bloggers running ads on their websites, any small tourist agency wishing to advertise their tours in Rome, Flickr if you uploaded your own pictures on their servers…

And these are just a few cases. Take the Colosseum picture in this post, which I got from Wikimedia. My personal, “I’m not a lawyer” understanding is that:

  • I could keep it here forever, Tod’s be damned, even if I run banners, since it was shot in April 2007, before that deal was signed, AND it has a CC-BY-SA 2.5 license

  • …until the italian Government doesn’t come after the author of that picture and everybody else who uses it, including me, because (see here again ) any Colosseum image always belonged to them only, even before the Tod’s deal

I’ll let you know if I ever get an injunction and from whom. In the meantime, should you visit Rome, remember to ask for permission before taking any picture of the Colosseum. Actually, remember to ask for that permission before taking any picture of any monument, throughout all Italy. The law is still there, and these days many italian administrations are trying anything legal they can think of to raise money.