Italian court orders Getty to remove all Michelangelo's David photos or pay €50,000 a day

Italian court orders Getty to remove all Michelangelo’s David photos or pay €50,000 a day

david statue getty

An Italian court has ordered Getty Images’ Italian website to remove all content depicting Michelangelo’s David. This includes not only photos of the original statue, but also any of its replicas worldwide. If they don’t comply, they could face a hefty daily fine of €50,000.

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While Getty Images plans to continue distributing David content globally, they require uploaded content to include specific keywords: “Michelangelo,” “David,” and “statue.” Failing to follow this rule could result in nearly $54,000 of daily penalties, potentially passed on to contributors.

Speaking with Photo Archive News, Getty confirmed that its Italian division is “facing a lawsuit before the Tribunal of Florence regarding the content depicting Michelangelo’s David.”

“The legal action has been brought against Getty Images Italia S.r.l. by the Italian Ministry of Culture. After the initial rejection of the provisional request done by the claimant, at the reclamation stage the Tribunal of Florence deemed to grant the provisional request for the temporary removal of the content depicting Michelangelo’s David from relative local websites. Getty Images (US.) Inc., informed about the Tribunal of Florence provisional decision of the reclamation stage, has temporarily removed the content depicting Michelangelo’s David from its local Italian websites. Getty Images is convinced of the legitimacy of its conduct and will continue to defend its rights.”

How can this be happening?

So, how can Michelangelo’s David be centuries old and considered public domain in most countries, yet Getty Images was sued over photos showing it? The crux lies in Italy’s unique cultural heritage protections, not traditional copyright restrictions on the statue itself.

A specific section safeguards of Italy’s constitution regard “cultural heritage and historical memory,” granting broader rights than just copyright. This extends to images and reproductions of significant artworks. This empowers Italian public institutions, like museums housing the David, to charge concession fees for commercial reproductions of their cultural heritage, even for public domain works.

There was a similar case in 2018 when the Italian Ministry of Culture tried to stop a fashion brand from using a video featuring a replica of Michelangelo’s David wearing their clothes. Even though the brand initially removed the video, the court ultimately ruled against them in 2022. The key point was that simply paying compensation wasn’t enough: using David’s image commercially required permission and consideration of its cultural value and impact on Italian citizens.

Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence sued a GQ magazine publisher that used an image of Michelangelo’s David without permission. An Italian court ruled in favor of the museum due to GQ magazine’s “mortifying and humiliating” cover image.

These cases show the broader cultural protections Italy grants to its heritage, even beyond traditional copyright. Therefore, the court order against Getty Images doesn’t concern copyright on the statue of David itself, but rather their distribution of specific images without permission from the authorized institution.

Keep in mind that there are some other places and artworks you’re not allowed to photograph for commercial purposes. This guide will come in handy to keep you away from any legal trouble.

[via PetaPixel; lead image credits: Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]