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Little Mermaid in copyright row

THE LITTLE Mermaid, the sculpture of the character created by Hans Christian Anderson, has been a prominent landmark in Copenhagen since it was sculpted and installed in 1913 by sculptor Edvard Eriksen. Eriksen's heirs have now brought a copyright case against another mermaid sculpture in coastal village of Asaa, in northern Denmark. This is reportedly because it "bears too close a resemblance" to the Eriksen mermaid, according to the New York Times..

Little Mermaid sculpture in Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid being installed in Langelinie in 1913.

Eriksen's bronze statue of a mermaid transforming into a human was unveiled in 1913 and now stands on Copenhagen's Langelinie Promenade. The estate of Edvard Eriksen licences miniature replicas for sale. The Eriksen estate reportedly brought a copyright case against another mermaid statue in Greenville, Michigan, where many residents are of Danish heritage. The case was apparently dropped after the mermaid's different face and "larger breasts" were cited as distinguishing features.

A similar statue was installed in the harbour at Asaa in 2016. The Eriksen family were reported in August of this year to be suing, demanding compensation and the destruction of the statue, citing "too close a resemblance."

The NYT reported that lawyers were in negotiations and that the case had not yet gone to court. The sculptor of the Asaa mermaid, Palle Moerk, defended his work, claiming that it was made of granite not bronze, while the figure was "plumper" and her features coarser. The timing of the case may have something to do with the expiry of the copyright on the Eriksen statue in Copenhagen – it runs out in 2029 according to Wikipedia.

Photojournalists can and have successfully sued for copyright breaches of photographic work in other media. NUJ member John Walmsley successfully took action against a museum that exhibited drawings by an artist. These were closely based on Walmsley's photos of Summerhill School. And in 2002 an NUJ member won compensation after a reconstruction of damage done by the 1995 Kobe earthquake appeared in the Natural History Museum. The court rules that the display, labelled "Mixed media: marine plywood, oils, 4-inch RSJs and a wrecked car" was a copy of his photo.

Copyright breaches are harder to prove for works in the form of words. There is no copyright on news itself - only on how it is told or, in the jargon, "expressed".

Lists are a minefield: we know of one NUJ member who had to make a substantial payout after quoting from a list of gigs by a particular band. In written works, the "artifice"the exact same form of words, can represent a copyright breach if it forms a "substantial part" of that work. See our guides on copyright and quoting.