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Fresco restorer doesn't want tourism cash: Lawyers

(CBS/AP) MADRID - The lawyers for an elderly Spanish woman who made global headlines when she botched the restoration of a fresco of Jesus Christ say she has no interest in a cut of the tourism windfall her work has brought her northeastern Spanish town.

But the attorneys are gearing up to put a stop to potential copyright violations of what she created - even though she had not set out to create anything at all.

"We want to put some order to this anarchy," said Antonio Val Carreras Rivera, one of her lawyers. "You do this little by little under legality, and our job is to coordinate to prevent third parties from profiting. We are at the beginning now, we can't say if she has rights."

The church fresco in the town of Borja was for decades a little-known piece of religious art by a minor Spanish artist. Following the disastrous touch-up, revealed in August, it has found a new fate as a global icon - used to sell products around the world.

The fresco depicts Christ with a crown of thorns before crucifixion, in a style style known as "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man). It stood in peaceful obscurity in the Misericordia Sanctuary since its creation in 1930 - until Gimenez, a longtime devotee of the work, decided it needed to be rescued from flaking caused by the damp church air.

The result was so awful that it could only be destined for one thing: worldwide fame.

The solemn Ecce Homo quickly took on a less dignified identity, as "Ecce Mono." Behold the Monkey.

The image now appears on T-shirts and cellphone covers, coffee mugs and wine labels. You can even use it as an avatar in online games.

Gimenez has gone into hiding in her hometown of Borja, about a four-hour drive from Madrid, to avoid countless international media interview requests. The town itself has morphed into a tourism destination for people who want to see her restoration. The crush has been so big that the Santi Spiritus foundation that owns the Misercordia church and sanctuary recently started charging admission: one euro per visitor.

Spanish newspaper El Correo reported that Gimenez and her family had hired lawyers to help them make their case that the 80-year-old pensioner deserved a cut of the tourism proceeds.

Spanish fresco restorer wants cut of tourism boon: Report

While the lawyers deny Gimenez wants the foundation to share the wealth, the octogenarian is exploring whether she has rights to the image she created.

If the lawyers determine she does, Gimenez could pursue payments from those using the image to sell products, Carreras Rivera said, adding that whatever she earns will go to charity. She's most interested in funding groups that help people with congenital muscular dystrophy, because she has a son with the disorder.

While Gimenez' lawyers research her legal rights, the Sancti Spiritus foundation is stuck in its own legal bind about what to do with the fresco. Should it restore the painting to its original state? Or leave Gimenez' image on the church walls? Or try, as experts say is possible, to separate the two?

Gimenez herself is thankful for the many messages of support she's received from around the world, her lawyers said in a statement. And she "regrets and deplores that commercial brands are financially exploiting a situation that began in total good faith, and which should be restricted to the human level beyond business or commercial interests," the statement said.

The influx of visitors hasn't shown any sign of letting up since news of the fresco rocketed around the world, Arrilla said. About 1,000 people paid admission last weekend, and the number of visitors has averaged 100 daily this week. The charge was put in place to cover the cost of additional workers needed at the sanctuary to manage the crowds.

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