A street artist in Rome is suing the Vatican over the use of her work in a 2020 Easter postage stamp issued by the country. According to a report by the Associated Press, the artist Alessia Babrow is seeking €130,000 ($159,285) in damages from Vatican City’s state telecommunications office, alleging that it profited from her work and violated its original intent.
The work in question features Jesus Christ with his arms raised and a heart on his chest that bears the words “Just Use It.” It is part of a series of similar images that Babrow has been creating since 2013, and the artist said that she glued this particular work to a bridge near the Vatican in 2019.
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“The real shock was that you don’t expect certain things from certain organizations,” Babrow told AP of the Vatican’s stamps.
Mauro Lanfranconi, an attorney representing Babrow in the suit, told the AP that the Vatican, by putting Babrow’s work on a stamp to essentially promote the Catholic Church, had “irrevocably distorted” the the artist’s initial purpose and vision for the work, which she described as an effort to “promote the intelligence and the brain of the heart.”
The Vatican’s stamp office and its press office both declined to comment on the lawsuit to the AP.
After the Vatican printed 80,000 stamps with Babrow’s image and offered them for sale at its post office for €1.15 each, Babrow’s lawyers said they attempted to contact the institution’s philatelic and numismatic office. The Vatican, the attorneys said, did not respond to their letter or email.
The possibility of Babrow’s lawsuit succeeding, however, might be complicated by a recent decision in a case regarding another work of street art by Banksy. Earlier this month, the European Union Intellectual Property Office ruled against the artist’s efforts to trademark his famed image of a monkey wearing a sandwich board that reads, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.” The EUIPO’s ruling specifically cited the work’s display in public spaces, allowing it to be freely “photographed by the general public and has been disseminated widely.”