Sweden 04 Feb 2020

Babblarna – Copyright dispute settled

Babblarna, the popular Swedish colorful characters for children, have been the subject of a long copyright dispute between the publisher Hatten and illustrator Ola Schubert. In November 2019, the dispute was settled in Labor Court with the outcome that the illustrator lost and is required to pay trial costs to the amount of 2,5 million SEK. 

In the year 2005, Anneli Tissel (CEO of Hatten publisher) asks Ola Schubert to create professional illustrations out of Tissel’s ideas and sketches of a new concept for children called Babblarna*). The illustrator Schubert works periodically at Hatten for ten years as freelance and receives financial compensation per assignment plus royalty. The copyright is not mentioned in writings during this time.

The question of who owns the copyright is mentioned in writings for the first time in a supplement to an employment agreement signed in May 2017. In this supplement it is stated that Hatten publisher owns the copyright of all illustrations that the employee created and creates within the employment contract.  

The illustrator Schubert quits his job in protest after being declined an increase of compensation for his work. He claimed that Hatten had neglected to inform him of the expanded use of his illustrations and therefore considered himself having the right to a standard royalty for the revenue from toys and products sales that Babblarna had yielded and in the future will bring in.

Hatten publisher files an appeal in Labor Court in spring 2018 to settle that they have the acquired copyright including the right to process and sublicense the material that Schubert contributed to during the time he was employed. The reason why the case was handled in Labor Court and not in the Patent and Market Court was because it did not demand the technical expertise that the Patent and Market Court possess, but primarily was about the relationship between an employer and its employee.

The Court made the assessment that the illustrator had actually been informed of almost every use of his illustrations and by not objecting, but on contrary sometimes even contributing to Hatten’s developmental work and usage of Babblarna, he thereby acted in a manner that the Court considered the publisher to have acquired the copyrights. 

In the decision, the Labor Court stated that Hatten was entitled to “dispose of copyright-protected performance arising under the illustrator’s contractual and employment agreement with Hatten – including the right to modify and license it”. (Court Decision No 53/19).

The Court was unanimous and the Decision cannot be appealed.


*) “The Babblers”

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