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Nobel body slams Merc over poem ‘grave theft’

The Swedish Academy, the body responsible for awarding the Nobel prizes, has announced its intention to sue German carmaker Mercedes Benz over its use of a poem by deceased poet Karin Boye in a new advert.

Nobel body slams Merc over poem 'grave theft'
Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund. File photo: TT

"Fortunately, there is something in copyright law called 'Classics protection'. This means that the Swedish Academy … has the right to protest in court the use of 'literary and artistic works … that violate cultural interests. This is what we will do now," stated Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund in a blog post on Friday.

The advert which has caused Englund and the Academy to react has been created by advertising agency ANR for German luxury car brand Mercedes Benz and features Swedish actress Lena Endre reading a poem by Karin Boye.

Boye was a Swedish poet and novelist who died in 1941. The poem which features in the advert is her perhaps most well-known work "On The Move" (I rörelse). 

"Move on, move on! The new day is dawning. 

Endless is our great adventure," the poem ends.

Englund in his blog post argued that the fact that Boye has been dead for over 70 years does not excuse what he described as "a gross distortion of both the poem and what the author once stood for".

He explained that Boye was a keen advocate of socialism and surmised therefore that she would never have approved of the use of her work in this manner.

"Exploiting Boye's poem in this insensitive and thoroughly commercialized way is grave robbery," Englund argued, revealing that the Academy has sent a cease and desist letter to the German car firm's Swedish headquarters.

Neither ANR nor Mercedes Benz had replied publicly to the letter by Saturday morning but ANR project leader Fredrik Pantzerheim told the Expressen daily in a previous interview that the firm had sought permission from the Karin Boye society the last time they used the poem in an advert, for car firm Renault. 

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Wikimedia ‘breaks copyright’ with Swedish statue photos

Sweden’s supreme court ruled on Monday that the non-profit internet giant Wikimedia breaches Sweden’s copyright laws by publishing photos of public artworks.

Wikimedia 'breaks copyright' with Swedish statue photos
Gothenburg's iconic Poseidon statue by Carl Milles. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

The controversial judgement is a victory for the Visual Copyright Society in Sweden (Bildupphovsrätt i Sverige – BUS), which sued Wikimedia at Stockholm District Court for publishing photos of Swedish public sculptures and other public artworks without first getting permission from the artists. 

“We are naturally very disappointed,” Wikimedia's Swedish operations manager Anna Troberg told The Local after the supreme court gave its guidance to the district court. 

“We view this as an anachronistic and restrictive interpretation of copyright laws. It also runs counter to recommendations from the European Court of Human Rights.”

Wikimedia is the group behind the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. It has created a vast online knowledge repository by allowing members of the public to group-edit entries and upload pictures to its pages for educational purposes. 

In its judgement the supreme court affirmed that Swedish copyright law does permit members of the public to take pictures of public artworks. But, the court said, “it is different when it’s a database where artworks are made available to the public to an unlimited extent without copyright-holders receiving any remuneration.”

“A database of this kind can be deemed to have a commercial value that is not inconsiderable,” the supreme court said in a statement.  

“The court rules that the copyright-holders are entitled to this value. It is not relevant whether or not Wikimedia has a commercial aim.” 

Wikimedia’s Anna Troberg said the group would now consult its lawyer and its parent foundation in the United States before deciding what action to take. 

“Our priority now will be to re-shape the debate, because clearly this is an outdated judgement. It is in no way in tune with the times that somebody should face legal repercussions for taking photos of public artworks that we have all paid for with our taxes.”