This summer, the Uffizi Gallery threatened to sue Pornhub for using its masterpieces in a “classic nudes” video.
“Some people think of museums as boring, stuffy or dull,” the adult streaming site wrote. “But what if we told you they housed a collection of priceless porn?”
The video re-enacted erotic scenes from art history using works including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, housed in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
Pornhub swiftly took down the unauthorized nudes, prompting debate about who controls the copying of cultural artifacts that are long out of copyright and in the public domain.
Traditionally, museums have been protective of high-resolution versions of their works, charging stiff fees for photographs or venue hire. There are multiple reasons: protecting copyrights, preventing forgeries and controlling lucrative revenues from brand deals.
In 2019, the Uffizi made about 1 million euros (US$1.14 million) in revenue from the sale of photos of its collection. That year, global sales of licensed goods was US$293 billion, with the art and non-profit sectors seeing the highest growth.
Museums around the world are increasingly capitalizing on the intellectual property of their priceless pieces, in unexpected collaborations from luxury lingerie to KFC packaging. China is leading this area, with Beijing’s Palace Museum reportedly making US$222 million through product sales in 2018.
These deals offer a lifeline for cash-strapped attractions after COVID-19 triggered a plunge in visitor numbers. In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) visitor count fell by 97 percent to 130,000, forcing it to cut opening hours to five days a week.
However, sales of licensed goods have rocketed, with homeware the best seller.
Since 2019, the Louvre in Paris has stepped up its licensing efforts, teaming up with DS Automobiles, the Swiss watchmaker Swatch and the macaron bakery Laduree.
The Louvre’s brand partnerships reportedly generated 4.5 million euros last year, compared with 2.7 million euros in 2019, according to Le Monde.
This year, it signed a four-year deal with Japanese retailer Uniqlo and launched a graphic T-shirt collection inspired by the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Liberty Leading the People.
He Yizan (何一讚), cofounder of Shanghai-based intellectual property licensing agency Artistory said museums are turning to merchandise to tap Gen Z audiences, who are more likely to access museum content online, rather than in person. The aim is to make their archives familiar to all.
Artistory’s designers opt for creative mashups of the old masters.
“We never slap the paintings on to the products, instead we create original patterns inspired by artworks and share them on TikTok and livestreamed events,” he said. “We want to transform something ancient and boring into something modern and exciting.”
However, these corporate gigs have riled those who fear museums’ cultural heritage is under threat.
In 2019, the Louvre partnered with Airbnb on a competition to let one couple stay the night in its hallowed halls.
Then-Paris deputy mayor of housing Ian Brossat wrote to then-French minister of culture Franck Riester that “this use of a public institution for commercial purposes by a digital giant is a shocking political gesture.”
Brossat has campaigned to ban Airbnb in Paris’ city center, saying that they are pushing Parisians out of the housing market.
Others ask why galleries should be free to profit from art no longer bound by copyright, which in the UK and EU lasts until 70 years after the creator’s death.
Then, the work is freely available intellectual property, although in certain countries, such as France, museums can claim perpetual moral rights of an author’s work. This gives custodians the right of attribution and ability to take down damaging reproductions.
Grischka Petri, a lawyer and art historian at the University of Glasgow, said it is problematic that museums are acting as trustees of long-dead artists whose works are no longer in copyright.
“It becomes interesting from a copyright perspective when a museum wants to monopolize its public domain collections and prohibit reproductions,” Petri said.
He said museums risk being “hypocritical” if they promot the commercialization of their collection, while also banning usage by others for moral reasons.
“Many ancient artworks work in a soft pornographic way anyway,” Petri said.
In the past few years, as the Internet has led to an explosion of low-quality copies, institutions are rethinking their strategy.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam allows audiences download high-resolution photographs of its collections that include Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh.
“If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image than a very bad reproduction,” Rijksmuseum director of collections Taco Dibbits said.
Two-year-old Xu Haoyang (徐灝洋) has likely just months to live — but the only medicine that can help his rare genetic condition is not found anywhere in China and closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean that he cannot travel for treatment. Instead, his desperate father, Xu Wei (徐偉), has created a home laboratory to create a remedy for the boy himself. “I didn’t really have time to think about whether to do it or not. It had to be done,” the 30-year-old said from his DIY lab in an apartment building in southwestern Kunming. Haoyang has Menkes syndrome, a genetic disorder
WIDE REOPENING DISCOURAGED: A study from Peking University has suggested that lifting restrictions in the style of the US, UK and others would be catastrophic China would face a “colossal outbreak” on a scale beyond anything any other country has yet seen if it were to reopen in a similar manner to the US. That is a prediction based on statistical modeling by researchers at Beijing’s Peking University. A switch from China’s current COVID-19 elimination strategy to a US-style approach with few restrictions would lead to as many as 637,155 infections per day, according to the study, which was published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. That would be the largest daily figure reported by any country since the start of the
BURNING, LOOTING: The demonstrators called for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to step down over failure to deliver infrastructure, among other complaints Solomon Islands police yesterday fired tear gas in the capital, Honiara, as crowds of protesters set fire to buildings, including a police station, and looted shops in an eruption of anger at the government, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported. The protest was led by people from the Pacific nation’s largest island, Malaita Province, about 120km from the capital. They were demanding that Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare step down over failure to deliver promised infrastructure among other complaints, RNZ said. The protest began peacefully, but most schools and businesses in Honiara were closed by the afternoon as crowds tried to enter the
MOBS, TEAR GAS: Anti-government protests deteriorated and led to looting and arson, as the Pacific nation’s PM said he regretted a return to the country’s ‘dark days’ Rioters torched buildings in the Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara yesterday, targeting the city’s Chinatown district in a second day of anti-government protests. Eyewitnesses and local media reported that crowds had defied a government lockdown to take to the streets. Live images showed several buildings engulfed in flames and plumes of thick black smoke billowing high above the capital. It followed widespread disorder on Wednesday, when demonstrators attempted to storm parliament and depose Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. Businesses operated by Honiara’s Chinese community were looted and burned, prompting Beijing’s embassy to express “serious concerns” to the Solomons’ government. The embassy “made representations