A Chinese court has ruled that an artist can hold a copyright for traditional religious symbols so long as they have “innovative elements” incorporated.
The court ruled that sculptor Huang Quanfu “owns the rights to a wood sculpture design for Maitreya – the so-called fat smiling Buddha,” according to China Daily. The artist had sued over the sale of carvings that resembled his own creations, which he received copyrights for in 2007.
In fact, the owner of the shop selling the similar pieces used that similarity as a defense, claiming that because the objects only looked like Huang’s works, it was OK that he sell them. The court didn’t go for that argument, however, finding that the imitation figurines were “basically the same as Huang’s copyrighted ones.” Indeed, Cao, the shop owner, even used Huang’s name in marketing material associated with the objects.
The court found that because Huang “integrated his own ideas” into the Buddha representations, the creations were, indeed, copyrightable.
The shop owner was ordered to pay 60,000 yuan ($9,588) to Huang, and an appeal of the judgment has already been denied.
Of course Chinese copyright law doesn’t apply in the United States, but this is still an interesting example of the use of intellectual property principles in art–and how that intersects with religion.
What do you think of the copyrighting of traditional religious images? Should it be allowed?