3

I am planning to sell a physical sculpture based on Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. There would be some additional features besides just the sculpture, but those are irrelevant for the purposes of this question. The painting, for those unfamiliar:

Creation of Adam Painting

The sculpture would be 3d modeled and then 3d printed. To give a sense of what I'm talking about, here's a link to a 3d model that I found.

Unless I can license that particular model, my plan is to pay another artist to create a similar model that I would then have ownership of. But, here comes the problem:

According to this Wikipedia page, "The Holy See owns all copyrights in the works published under its name or created on its commission (art. 5)." Since this painting was commissioned by the Vatican for the Sistine Chapel, they own the copyright to it. So, I have several questions:

  1. In general, if a painting is copyrighted, can a sculpture be created based on that painting without violating the painting's copyright?
  2. If not, would the religious nature of the scene be a good legal defense? I.e. this sculpture was inspired by the story of God creating man (not copyrighted), rather than inspired by a specific painting of God creating man (copyrighted).
  3. If I do somehow violate copyright, how likely is it that the Vatican would actually sue? How far does their jurisdiction extend?
  4. If I commission another artist to create a sculpture based on the painting, could I be violating the copyright of the artist who has already created a sculpture based on the painting?

If it matters, I am based in the US, though I would ideally like to be able to sell outside of the US. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

1 Answer 1

4

"The Holy See owns all copyrights in the works published under its name or created on its commission (art. 5)." Since this painting was commissioned by the Vatican for the Sistine Chapel, they own the copyright to it.

The first sentence just says the Vatican owns all copyrights that exist, it doesn't speak to whether any copyrights exist in the first place. Earlier in that article, it says "The law provides for copyright 70 years after the death of the author, or 70 years after publication for works with no named author." I don't know off-hand when Michelangelo died, but I'm pretty sure that it was more than 70 years ago. So if there is a copyright, it has long since expired, and who owns it is a moot point. The painting is well in the public domain.

If there were a valid copyright, a sculpture would be a derivative work and would require a license.

2
  • 1
    He died in 1564, so just a bit more than 70 years.
    – user40839
    Feb 19, 2022 at 10:16
  • 1
    In other words, "...owns all copyrights in the works..." isn't the same as "...owns copyrights in all the works...."
    – phoog
    Feb 20, 2022 at 10:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .