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Remember Cecilia Gimenez, the lady who tried to restore a fresco in a church near Zaragoza and did it wrong? The story is twisting down some interesting paths, copyright-wise.

According to El Correo (in Spanish, English via gTranslate), thousands of people started visiting the church in the town of Borja after the botched restauration became famous on the internet. The church placed a collection box next to the "creatively restored" fresco, but few people left donations, so it was decided to charge admission to the building instead. Apparently they've earned about 2000 euros in just four days. Now Gimenez' family has called in lawyers to claim that she should get royalties, because the foundation that operates the church is making money off her work.

My first reaction to this was "oh, more copyright crazy", but this one is actually pretty interesting. I don't know if the royalties claim makes any legal sense; I'm not familiar with Spanish copyright law, and anyway, whether or not something is legal doesn't necessarily determine whether or not it's right or fair.*

What's really tragic here is that the way they're going about resolving this dispute is likely to end in less money for everyone. The foundation that operates the church has also called in the lawyers. Unless Gimenez' family and the church foundation come to their senses and work something out, the matter will have to be resolved in a way that involves piles of legal fees, as well as days of the valuable time of public and private legal professionals who surely have better things to do. Maybe one party will win and get much dough and their legal fees paid for them, but there will be a vastly larger number of other people who will have lost money and costly time. This little spat is going to suck away at least some substantial amount of all that free cash that the town of Borja just got dropped on its head.

In a sad and funny way, this story underscores one of the most unfortunate downsides of copyright law: enforcing or disputing copyrights will often end up costing more than whatever amount of money was originally earned or lost. That's especially painful for creators who are not giant corporations that can take a financial punch. If enforcing copyright is too costly, a law that claims to protect artists is actually pretty useless for any artist not attached to a big company.

Found via Techdirt, which also has the following interesting quote (emphasis mine):

It would be fascinating to know where the idea came from: whether somebody suggested to her that she had a "right" to some of the church's money, or whether the sense of entitlement -- in this case for more or less ruining an admittedly minor work of art -- is now so widespread that everyone, everywhere, naturally assumes they ought to get their cut as soon as money is involved.


* While it's true that Gimenez originally botched the restauration and certainly didn't intend to make the church money, that's what she ended up doing. Still according to the El Correo article, the sudden influx of tourists is financially benefiting businesses in the region, Ryanair is organizing a special promotion for people flying to Zaragoza, and the church foundation and the Borja city council are organizing an international art competition to keep the tourists coming. It's clear that Gimenez' volunteer work is directly responsible for a lot of people except for her making a nice buck.  Nevertheless, it sounds strange in the least that she might be able to claim copyright on something she screwed up and that's also going to cost a lot of money to fix. (Let's not go into how the destruction of art qualifies as art, or we'll be here for a month.) However, the issue is muddy enough that arguments can be made in favor of her deserving some of the windfall.
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