Sweden 22 Oct 2020

Comedian was acquitted in copyright dispute – his work was considered a parody

UPDATE 2 November, 2020: The acquittal will be appealed – see the update in the last paragraph on this copyright dispute.

Where does one draw the line between copyright and permissible parody? The writer and satirist Aron Flam is not considered to have committed copyright infringement with his acclaimed book “This is a Swedish Tiger”. This according to the Patent and Market Court, which accepted Flam’s claim that the purpose of the image was only to question the message that “A Swedish Tiger” is historically associated with, using parody.

The book “This is a Swedish tiger” is, in short, an attack on Sweden’s indulgence towards Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Aron Flam was charged after police seized a number of his books. According to the prosecutor, Flam had illegally used the copyrighted image “A Swedish Tiger” on the cover and thereby intentionally or through gross negligence infringed on the copyright.

The original work “A Swedish Tiger” was created by Bertil Almqvist and consists of a blue-yellow-striped tiger and the words “A Swedish Tiger”. The phrase in Swedish also has a second meaning: “a Swede keeps silent”. The illustration was used in a silence campaign during World War II. After Almqvist’s death, the foundation Military Readiness Museum in Sweden holds the copyright to the work. The foundation is the plaintiff in the dispute and was the one who reported to the police that the book was a possible infringement of the copyright to the work.

The prosecutor referred to a series of published images of the work “A Swedish Tiger” on various internet forums. According to the prosecutor, these pictures have been illegally published by Aron Flam for several years. The images have both depicted the work in its original, but also in modified condition. According to the prosecutor, the changes mainly consisted of the animal being provided with, a swastika armband and performing a Hitler salute. Aron Flam has denied the allegations, claiming that the cover of the book is satire on a historical campaign, and that this kind of parody is permitted.

Aron Flam has now been acquitted of the charges of copyright infringement. According to the court, Flam’s tiger is “a parodic element of his communication”. The parodic point is “not aimed at the original artwork in the first place, but rather at the symbolism that A Swedish Tiger has acquired over time”.

The court therefore finds that the use of the tiger in this case “falls under the so-called parody exception”. The exception means, in simple terms, that it may be permitted to use other people’s protected works, for example if it is done for a ridiculous purpose and in a way that is significantly different from the original work.

After making an overall assessment of the Patent and Market Court’s judgement, the Public Prosecutor (Sw. Kammaråklagare) David Ludvigsson has concluded that the case should be tried, according to a press release. Thus, the judgement will be appealed to the Patent and Market Court of Appeal.

Picture “En Svensk Tiger”, original by Bertil Almqvist.

Photo of Aron Flam by: Frankie Fouganthin

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