Italian Court Orders Getty Images to Remove Photos of Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo’s David. | Nan Palmero

The Getty Images’ Italian website is being forced to remove any content that depicts Michelangelo’s David after legal action was brought by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

In a statement to Photo Archive News, Getty confirmed its Italian operation is facing a “lawsuit before the Tribunal of Florence regarding the content depicting Michelangelo’s David.”

Getty says that it has “temporarily removed the content depicting Michelangelo’s David from its local Italian websites”. But adds that it is “convinced of the legitimacy of its conduct and will continue to defend its rights.”

The statement appears to suggest that Getty is thinking about appealing the court order. In its statement, Getty notes that the Italia Ministry of Culture’s initial requests were rejected but at the “reclamation stage the Tribunal of Florence deemed to grant the provisional request.”

Photo Archive News was apparently made aware of the situation after a note was sent to Getty contributors to say it will “continue to distribute Michelangelo’s David content throughout the world”, however, it is vital that uploaded content must “include the following words … ‘Michelangelo’ AND ‘David’ AND ‘statue’

“Any failure to follow this guideline could result in court-ordered penalties of €50.000 per day. We reserve the right to pass along this penalty to you. Please review our IP Wiki entry for more information.”

‘Protecting Italy’s Cultural and Heritage Memory’

You may be wondering why Italian authorities are enforcing copyright on a 500-year-old statue that has long passed into the public domain. It’s because a section of Italy’s constitution protects images of the nation’s cultural heritage and historical memory.

A related law enables the country’s public institutions, such as museums, to request concession fees for commercial reproductions of artworks of cultural heritage, regardless of their copyright status.

Last year, an Italian museum won a lawsuit against a magazine publisher which used a photo of Michelangelo’s sculpture David without permission.

In August 2020, GQ Italia superimposed a photograph of 16th-century statue David’s face onto an image of model Pietro Boselli for its cover.

In May 2022, the Court of Florence ruled in favor of the Galleria dell’Accademia in the copyright lawsuit. Edizioni Condé Nast was ordered to pay the museum €20,000 ($21,400) for the licensing fee and an additional fine of €30,000 ($32,150) for how it altered the image of David for the magazine.