That’s My Valentine!

Nick Papas' icon of St. Valentine
copyrighted icon of St. Valentine

Last Saturday morning, I received a phone call from Jabra Tannous in Cypress, Texas. He had gone on a double date to Valentine’s Day: the Movie on its opening night. There is a scene in the movie where a school teacher is telling the story of St. Valentine. Taped to the chalkboard behind her and with a second copy in her hand are prints of the icon to the left. Jabra said, “Oh no! Somebody owes Cranford money!”

Jabra recognized the icon from my business website for “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art. He assumed that permission was not obtained for this use, so he called me. He was correct, except that they owed Nick Papas money. Artwork belongs to the artist for his lifetime plus 70 years to his heirs and assigns. If one buys an original piece of art; one does not own any right to copy it or control over the copyright, unless that right is specifically purchased from the artist.

I immediately called Nick Papas to let him know about the use of his icon in the movie and he confirmed that he had not given permission. I tried to call Constantine Nasr, whom I got to know when we were in the House of Studies at the Antiochian Village ten years ago. He produces and directs documentary films, so I figured he would know about copyrights in Hollywood. His phone was out of order, so I got a busy signal. I continued to research the movie and found that the icon was on the website, as well. It’s in the classroom shot in the gallery. I called Constantine again on Monday morning. This time, he answered his phone. It had been repaired just five minutes before. As I described the situation to him, he kept saying, “Oh no!” and “This is not good!” and the like. He told me some stories of how other, similar copyright issues were resolved, and offered to call one of his colleagues who worked in Warner Bros. copyright clearance department.

On Tuesday, I received a call from Warner Bros. The negotiation began. I researched Warner Bros.’ and New Line’s case histories for resolving copyright violations; both for when they were the plaintiff and the defendant. Nick and Patty saw the movie on Thursday night. He called me from the lobby of the theater to tell me that his icon was right at eye level on the movie poster (by the second N). By the end of Friday afternoon, we had a signed copyright agreement with Warner Bros. / New Line whereby they agreed to pay Nick $5,000 for the use of his St. Valentine icon in connection with this movie.

It was a fun negotiation. I probably did leave some money on the table, but the point wasn’t to be nasty or to make a killing. It was basically found money for Nick, but we did want it to cost the studio enough to send a message to their set decorating people to be more careful. Five or ten minutes on Google would have let them know that this was not in public domain. Warner Bros. was very willing to do what they needed to do to correct this oversight quickly. Nick said I missed my calling; that I should be a lawyer. I replied, ” No thanks. I like sleeping at night.”

In the Orthodox Church, the main commemoration for St. Valentine is July 6, as that is the date of his martyrdom. However, there is ancient precedent for a February 14 commemoration. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius set February 14th to honor St. Valentine to counter the pagan “love” festival that Valentine had originally interfered with. St. Valentine was a priest near Rome. Feb. 15 was the pagan feast of Lupercalla. On the eve of the feast, the young men of the village were allowed to take any of the young maids for the night. To protect the young people from this promiscuity, Fr. Valentine held an all night vigil in the church for all the young people that night. This so enraged the local, pagan authorities that they sought for a way to eliminate this troublesome priest. Emperor Claudius Flavius banned marriages of any young men, because he felt that married men did not make good soldiers. Fr. Valentine continued to conduct marriages secretly. This was found out and brought to the attention of the emperor. Claudius valued Fr. Valentine as an intelligent man and a respected leader in the community. He had General Asterius try to persuade him to become a pagan. What happened instead was that Fr. Valentine healed Asterius’ daughter of blindness, and he and his whole family converted to Christianity, being baptized by St. Valentine. They were all martyred together on July 6, 269.

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