from the under-the-'c' dept
If you haven’t been a long time Techdirt reader, you’ll probably hear me say that there is a copyright infringement court case in Denmark and immediately wonder, “Yeesh, what did Disney do now?” But this is not a story about Disney. This is a story about the heirs of Edvard Eriksen, creator of a bronze statue of The Little Mermaid, inspired by the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and their inability to let anyone in any way depict the statue or anything similar without being accosted in copyright actions. Most of the bullying actions by Eriksen’s heirs have been, unbelievably, against other towns throughout the world for creating their own Little Mermaid statues: Greenville, Michigan and the Danish city of Asaa for example.
But less known are all the times Eriksen’s heirs have gone after publications for showing pictures or other depictions of the statue. I won’t pretend to be an expert in Danish copyright law, but if that country’s laws are such that a newspaper or magazine cannot show a picture of one of the country’s most famous landmarks, then that law is silly and should be changed or amended. Lest you think I must have this wrong, you can see a recent story of, not one, but two courts ruling that a newspaper must compensate Eriksen’s heirs for a cartoon that depicted the statue on its pages.
An appeals court in Denmark has increased the compensation a newspaper was ordered to pay for violating the copyright of Copenhagen’s The Little Mermaid statue with a cartoon depicting the bronze landmark as a zombie and a photo of it with a facemask.
The Berlingske newspaper published the cartoon in 2019 to illustrate an article about the debate culture in Denmark and used the photo in 2020 to represent a link between the far right and people fearing COVID-19.
For those of us reading this news in America, as well as many other nations, this all looks completely laughable. This is purely free speech stuff, protected in America by the First Amendment. Even getting past that, a cartoon of a statue is not a recreation of that statue, therefore copyright wouldn’t even really apply. Plus it’s parody and being used for commentary. Nothing about this makes sense.
And, yet, it must in Denmark because this 2nd court not only affirmed the ruling of the lower court but actually increased the compensation the newspaper was ordered to pay Eriksen’s heirs.
Both were found to be infringements of the Danish Copyright Act. Copenhagen’s district court ordered the newspaper in 2020 to pay the heirs of Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen 285,000 kroner ($44,000) in compensation. The appeals court on Wednesday raised the amount to 300,000 kroner ($46,000).
In a statement, the Eastern High Court in the Danish capital agreed with the lower court that “there was a violation of copyright” in the newspaper’s actions. It did not give a reason for increasing the compensation amount but noted that Berlingske is a commercial venture since it wants to sell newspapers.
Again, this is all absurd. If the above rulings truly do comport with Danish copyright law, then all that suggests is that there needs to be an active movement in Denmark to amend the law. And, just to make this all the more frustrating, the copyright protections in Denmark are familiar: 70 years after the death of the author. In this case, that means Eriksen’s heirs will only have this ability to bilk others for cash payments for the statue for another seven years.