Edvard Eriksen Estate Goes After Another Danish City For Having A Mermaid Statue
from the under-the-C dept
Who knew that a bronze statue of a mermaid could cause so much trouble. If you’re not aware, there is a statue of the Little Mermaid on the shores of the Danish capital Copenhagen. It was created by Edvard Eriksen, who died decades ago. Eriksen’s estate, however, is well known to try to claim copyright infringement on any other statues of mermaids that pop up in cities around the world, including in Michigan. Notably in that case, the estate ran away when a public backlash began to emerge. This is also, by the way, the same statue that Facebook has previously removed images of for showing too much “skin”, or bronze in this case, as the mermaid is topless, because… mermaids.
Notably, Eriksen based his own artwork on the famous Little Mermaid created by Hans Christian Anderson. Despite that, it seems that any remotely similar mermaid statues find their way into the estate’s crosshairs, such as the statue that resides in Asaa, Denmark.
The mermaid that has been watching the harbor in the village of Asaa, in northern Denmark, since 2016 is not an exact replica of the monument in the Danish capital. But for the heirs of Edvard Eriksen, the artist who sculpted the Copenhagen statue, the mermaid Asaa bears too much resemblance. They took legal action, demanding not only financial compensation, but also the demolition of Asaa’s sculpture.
“When I first received the email, I laughed,” said Mikael Klitgaard, the mayor of Broenderslev, the municipality that includes Asaa. “I thought it was a joke.”
The only joke here is the stance of the estate, which doesn’t appear to understand the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright laws. Now, to be clear, I’m not 100% clear on whether Danish law differs significantly from American law on the idea/expression dichotomy, though this Thomson Reuters Q&A on the topic appears quite familiar.
Copyright infringement is generally assessed by comparing the works in question and determining whether the allegedly infringing work brings on the same aesthetic experience as the original work. This determination is based on the general impression of the works, as opposed to assessing each detail on its own. When assessing copyright infringement, the courts must take into consideration the general notion that ideas, motifs, information and the like are not protected in Danish copyright law.
Assuming that’s accurate, any threat from the estate should be a nonstarter. If you are wondering how similar these works of art are, the answer is: very! But that is because they are bronze statues of mermaids sitting on a rock. Both kneel, both are topless, both are mermaids, and both have the mermaid’s tail splayed slightly to one side. But, and this is important, they are not identical. In other words, the statue is not a replica of the Copenhagen statue, but rather a replica of the idea, or inspiration, of Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaid. According to the source post, the lawyers on both sides are now talking, with much of the conversation coming down to how similar the statues are. And, it seems, a ton of that relies on the mermaid’s posture. Which, as Klitgaard goes on to note, presents a problem.
Carved from granite and weighing three tons, the mermaid Asaa is more plump and her facial features coarser. His posture, however, is the same.
“How else is she going to sit down?” asked Klitgaard, the mayor. “It’s a mermaid. You can’t put her on a chair.
Exactly. Meanwhile, the artist that created the Asaa mermaid, Palle Moerk, is quite confused as to why any of this is a problem for the estate.
The mermaid Asaa was created by Palle Moerk, a local artist and stonemason who carves both tombstones and figurative sculptures; among these, pigs, owls and human hands making gestures (both obscene and not) are favored themes. He had sculpted the mermaid four years before it was purchased by a group of Asaa citizens and donated to the organization that runs the port to commemorate its 140th anniversary.
In an interview, the artist said he resented the accusation of copying Eriksen’s mermaid. “As an artist you understand all kinds of things – and of course I had seen pictures of the mermaid Langelinie,” Moerk explained. “But it was my own inspiration.”
Idea vs. expression. The idea of a mermaid resting on a rock is not protectable by copyright. Exact replicas of the Copenhagen statue are. If this statue is not a replica, nor an attempt at a replica, then the estate is suing over idea and not expression.
In other words, the song from the film is “Under the Sea”, not “Under the ©”.