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Danish Supreme Court says newspaper did not violate copyright of Little Mermaid statue

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark’s Supreme Court on Wednesday overruled two lower courts, saying a cartoon depicting Copenhagen’s The Little Mermaid statue as a zombie and a photo of it with a face mask did not violate the copyright of the famous bronze.

The Berlingske newspaper published the cartoon in 2019 to illustrate an article about the level of debate in Denmark and used the photo in 2020 to represent a link between the far right and people fearing COVID-19.

Copenhagen’s district court and the Eastern High Court found in 2020 and 2022 that the cartoon and the photo were infringements of the Danish Copyright Act, and ordered the newspaper — one of Denmark’s largest — to pay the heirs of Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen thousands of kroner in compensation.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said “that neither the caricature drawing nor the photograph of The Little Mermaid with a mask on, which was brought to Berlingske in connection with newspaper articles, infringed the copyright of the heirs to the sculpture The Little Mermaid.”

The daily’s chief editor, Tom Jensen, had argued that the paper had used the image of The Little Mermaid for noncommercial purposes.

On Wednesday, Jensen called it “a very happy day. Not just for us, but for all media in Denmark,.”

“It would have been a problem for the freedom of the media to do what we were created to do — namely to run a journalistic business, including satirical cartoons — if we had been convicted,” Jensen said.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The plaintiffs were the heirs of sculptor Eriksen, who created the girl-size mermaid that has been sitting on a rock at the entrance of the Copenhagen harbor since 1913.

The heirs are rigorous in enforcing the copyright to the sculpture, which runs until 2029, 70 years after Eriksen’s 1959 death. Several publications have been charged with copyright infringement over the years after publishing pictures of the artwork.

Eriksen created The Little Mermaid in tribute to Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. One of Europe’s most recognizable landmarks, the sculpture draws about 1 million visitors annually and has been a regular target for vandals who have blown the mermaid figure off its perch and beheaded or painted it.

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