Last week the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that “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.”
This is important stuff, since it was always considered that the parody should relate to the parodied work or the author of the parodies work. This way the ECJ has given the legal term ‘parody’ a much wider meaning.
At a New Year’s reception held by the city of Ghent, Mr. Deckmyn, a member of Flemish political party Vlaams Belang, handed out calendars that featured a drawing which resembled that appearing on the cover of one of the Suske en Wiske (in English known as Spike and Suzy) comic books with the original title ‘De Wilde Weldoener’ (‘The compulsive benefactor’), produced in 1961 by Willy Vandersteen.
The original drawing represented an allegorical character scattering around coins, but in the parody that character was replaced by the mayor of the city of Ghent, while the people picking up the coins were replaced by people wearing veils and people of colour.
Author Vandersteen’s heirs took offence and claimed this was an infringement on their copyright, and alleged that the drawing conveyed a discriminatory message. Deckmyn, of course, merely stated it was a parody – an exception in copyright law – and claimed this simply falls under freedom of speech.
The ECJ now states that if a parody is discriminatory, the copyright owner of the original work can successfully object.
However, more importantly, the Court also states that it is not necessary that the parody relates to the original work itself. It can also be classified as a parody if it is attributed to a person other than the author of the original work itself.
Although it is up to the Belgian court to decide whether the parody is discriminatory or not, as of last week there is much more legal room for ‘parody’ on copyrighted works.