Danish court ups fine on newspaper for Little Mermaid copyright violation

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An appeals court in Denmark has increased the fine imposed on a newspaper for violating the copyright of Copenhagen's The Little Mermaid statue by publishing 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.

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Both were found to be infringements of the Danish Copyright Act.

Copenhagen’s district court fined the newspaper 285,000 kroner ($44,000) in November 2020. The appeals court on Wednesday raised the fine to 300,000 kroner ($46,000).

Berlingske’s chief editor, Tom Jensen, had appealed the district court's ruling, calling the fine “completely out of proportion and far, far too high.” Jensen argued the paper had used the image of The Little Mermaid for non-commercial purposes.

The plaintiffs were the heirs of Danish sculptor Edvard 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 target for vandals who have blown the mermaid figure off its perch and beheaded or painted it.

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