The Vatican wants to keep a closer eye on how businesses use the image of Pope Francis on their products. A recent statement by the city-state hints at plans to "protect" its intellectual property, which includes pictures of the pontiff as well as the crossed keys emblem of the Holy See.
"The secretary of state will undertake systematic surveillance aimed at monitoring the way in which the image of the Holy Father and the emblems of the Holy See are used, intervening with opportune measures when necessary," the Vatican said.
Francis has earned popularity around the world, which has in turn led to the sale of various products with his image on them. These most often include T-shirts, plates and wall hangings.
In a bid to "stop situations of illegality that may be discovered", the Vatican has reportedly hired global law firm Baker McKenzie to protect its intellectual property rights, according to Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
This move indicates a change in the Church's handling of rights to images and designs, which up until now were used rather freely for sale of religion-inspired items. "It's not new that people were selling T-shirts of the Pope, but (previously) those were probably little local vendors," Mark McKenna, an intellectual property expert at the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana told Associated Press.
Experts believe the Vatican could be worried that people think that the money made from the sale of these products goes to the church. They could also be concerned about association with labour abuses, especially since most of the items are manufactured in places in East Asia known for bad working conditions.
"The Pope's image rights are no different from those of any other famous celebrity and so it's not surprising that the Vatican is giving notice that it will protect its (intellectual property) rights as necessary," said Nick Kounoupias, the founder of an intellectual property consultancy in London. "What will be interesting to see, however, is how vigorously these rights are pursued, given who the IP owner is."