#1Sep 3rd, 2014
Flemish cartoon Suske en Wiske
EU courts rule against a political parody using well-known Belgian cartoon characters to make a point about public spending on immigrants
European Union judges have ruled that parody is not acceptable when it goes beyond "an expression of humour or mockery" and contains a “discriminatory message.”
EU courts, not known for a sense of humour, have made a judgement under European copyright law after a far-Right Belgian party used a parody of cult comic characters to make a political point about immigration.
“If a parody conveys a discriminatory message, a person holding rights in the parodied work may demand that that work should not be associated with that message,” said the European Court of Justice.
Three years ago, a member of the Vlaams Belang, a Flemish anti-immigration party, handed out calendars with a cover page based Suske en Wiske, Spike and Suzy, cartoon characters that have been as famous as Herge's Tintin in Belgium for almost 70 years.
The far-Right parody took a Suske en Wiske book cover, the “Wild Benefactor,” showing a character scattering coins from a helicopter to the delight of people on the street, to depict the mayor of Ghent throwing money to Muslims wearing burkas and Arabic looking turbaned men.
Several heirs to Willy Vandersteen, the creator of the comics, and other holders of the rights to the cartoon characters brought a breach of copyright action against Vlaams Belang, which claimed an exception under rules allowing political caricature and parody.
In a ruling for the Belgian courts, EU judges declared freedom of expression did not override copyright when being used for politics aimed at discriminating against groups of people.
“If a parody conveys a discriminatory message (for example, by replacing the original characters with people wearing veils and people of colour), the holders of the rights to the work parodied have, in principle, a legitimate interest in ensuring that their work is not associated with such a message,” said the EU court... (external - login to view)
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