French Moral Rights May Prevent Copy of Rodin’s Public Domain Sculptures

As reported by several French newspapers [here and here], the “Gruppo Mondiale”, a company incorporated in Lichtenstein, is on trial in the Paris criminal court for counterfeiting and false advertising for having sold several copies of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures.

According to a court expert, some 1,700 of such copies have been sold, in a scheme on a scale which has been described as “quasi industrial” by the District Attorney (DA), who has asked the court to levy a 150,000 Euros fine. The DA has also asked the court to sentence Gary Snell, an American allegedly managing the Gruppo Mondiale company, to eight months in prison and a 30,000 Euros fine.

The case is interesting because Auguste Rodin died in November 1917 and thus his works are in the public domain. So why is it possible to file a suit alleging that some of Rodin’s works have been counterfeited? 
Eeet iz a reproduction, oui?

Under article 123-1 of the French Intellectual Property code, authors enjoy patrimonial rights during their lifetime, which include the exclusive right to exploit their works in any form whatsoever and to derive monetary profit from it. These rights survive the author’s death for seventy years.

Also, under article L.121-1 of the same code, authors have moral rights, that is, the right to respect for their name, authorship and work. Such right is “perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible. It may be transmitted mortis causa to the heirs of the author.  Exercise may be conferred on another person under the provisions of a will.

Auguste Rodin donated all his works to the French government and it is the Musée Rodin in Paris which is vested with the moral rights in these works by a February 1993 decree. Article 2.5 of this decree defines what is considered to be first editions of Rodin bronzes: they must be  taken from the molds and plaster models in the MuséeRodin collections; these editions are limited to twelve, numbered from 1/8 to 8/8 and I/IV to IV/ V, including existing editions.

While French law does not prevent copying Rodin’s works, they must be clearly marked as such, because under article 8 of the Decree No.81-255 of March 3, 1981 about fraud prevention in art and collectibles transactions, “any facsimile, molding, copy or other reproduction of a work of art or a collectible must be designated as such.”

The DA argued that even though Rodin's work are in the public domain and may thus be reproduced freely, such reproductive freedom must be exercised with respect for the moral rights of the author. Both the moral rights of respect for the work and the author’s name are at stake in this case.

The right of respect for the author’s name has not been respected here, according to the DA. Snell allegedly bought original Rodin plasters and Gruppo Mondiale used them to create molds. The statues have then been mass-produced by a foundry from these molds. Some of these reproductions sported a Rodin signature and sometimes even the mark of the foundry used by Rodin, the Rudier foundry, instead of the mark of the Italian foundry who actually manufactured these copies. This would violate Rodin’s perpetual moral rights in his name. As such, the DA argued that these reproductions have to be considered as counterfeits under French law.

Also, some of the reproductions were so poorly made that the DA also argued that they were also a violation of Rodin’s moral right to respect of his works, claiming the copies betrayed the artist’s vision.

These reproductions were not sold in France, and the defense is arguing that the French law cannot apply to the case. But the DA is arguing that they were sold on a web site which could be accessed from France.

The court will render its judgment next month.
French Moral Rights May Prevent Copy of Rodin’s Public Domain Sculptures French Moral Rights May Prevent Copy of Rodin’s Public Domain Sculptures Reviewed by Marie-Andree Weiss on Tuesday, October 07, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. Reproduction of Rodin's sculptures isn't new - I was given poor-quality copies of The Kiss and The Thinker (each about 20cm in height) towards the end of the 1960s. I'm now wondering if these were made after 1967 so (a) when the (then) relevant period of copyright expired and (b) before the UK woke up to the power of moral rights

  2. The copies that reproduced the original french foundries mark provably do involve counterfeiting, and the really badly made copies may involve moral rights.

    But surely, reproducing the signature is simply part and parcel of accurately reproducing any signed art work? For example- Are the millions of copies of 'sunflowers' that reproduce the signature 'Vincent' a violation of moral rights?

  3. In fact surely reproducing a artwork without the artists signature, would itself be a breach of the moral right of recognition as the Author of the original art work?

  4. It should be noted that Gruppo Mondiale and Gary Snell were found innocent and all of Musee Rodin's demands were rejected. As Musee Rodin produces bronzes this was really a commercial dispute. They lost their monopoly when the artists work fell into public domain in the 1980's


  5. The works of Auguste Rodin and their intellectual property have been in public domain since 1987 because, in line with the near-universally adopted Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the right to enforce copyright expires 70 years after an artist’s death.

    The article contains a number of factual errors, namely:

    Gruppo Mondiale/Gary Snell have NOT sold thousands of Rodin bronzes as alleged. Just over 600 bronzes of 60 different images have been produced. These were sold at a fraction of the cost of a lifetime bronze or of posthumous casts made by Musee Rodin.
    Musee Rodin has cast and sold thousands of posthumous bronzes over the years.

    Gary Snell did not manage Gruppo Mondiale.

    The Rudier foundry mark was never used on the bronzes. There were never any artist signatures posthumously placed on any bronzes other than the ones placed on the plasters by the artist.

    The bronzes cast do NOT represent a transgression of the Rodin estate “moral right”. Numerous experts, including the former employee of Musee Rodin Alain Busier, have praised their quality. All cast have clearly used accurate and period casting techniques, correct measurements, correct patinas and are cast from Rodin foundry plasters. They have been publicly exhibited throughout the world.

    In a 2014 action against Gruppo Mondiale & Gary Snell the French court delivered a judgment stating that the French State had no jurisdiction over the Snell bronzes and that French law was therefore not applicable.

    Regarding the McLaren Museum, the tax structure failed and both the museum and Snell lost significant amounts of money rather than profiting.


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.