Denmark Now Has Two Little Mermaids. Celebrity Litigation.

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ASAA, Denmark — Last week, two Danish vacationers, Tina Pedersen and Jens Poulsen, posed for a photo next to a mermaid statue. The statue was familiar in some ways: Perched next to a harbor, the mermaid put the weight of her naked body on one arm and gracefully draped her fishtail over a rock. Yet Pedersen and Poulsen were not in Copenhagen; They were going on a beach vacation on the other side of Denmark.

“We heard on the radio that the ‘The Little Mermaid’ property demanded that it be destroyed,” Pedersen said. “So we thought it would be better if we come and see while we still can.”

The mermaid, who has been watching the harbor in the northern Danish village of Asaa since 2016, is not an exact replica of the Danish capital’s landmark. But for the heirs of the Copenhagen sculpture artist Edvard Eriksen, the Asaa mermaid bears a very close resemblance. They took legal action, demanding not only monetary compensation, but also the demolition of the statue in Asaa.

“I laughed when I first got the email,” said Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of Broenderslev, which includes Asaa. “I thought it was a joke.”

But the Eriksen mansion isn’t kidding. It has a long history of vigorously protecting the licensing rights to the image of the statue representing a character from a Hans Christian Andersen story. Reachable by phone, Alice Eriksen, the artist’s granddaughter and overseer of the property, declined to comment. “The case is pending,” he said.

Lawyers on both sides are still negotiating, but if the case goes to court, the verdict will show just how similar the Asaa mermaid was to the one that brewer and philanthropist Carl Jacobsen had been sitting in Copenhagen’s Langelinie harbor since 1913. to the city as a gift. One of Copenhagen’s most visited tourist attractions, this statue is made of bronze and features a tiny mermaid who puts her weight on her right arm and has her tail neatly tucked into the other side.

Carved from granite and weighing three tons, the Asaa mermaid is fuller and has more defined features. However, his stance is the same.

Mayor Klitgaard said, “How else will he sit?” asked. “She’s a mermaid. You can’t put her on a chair.”

The Asaa mermaid was created by Palle Moerk, a local artist and stonemason who carves both tombstones and figurative sculptures; Among the latter, pigs, owls, and gesturing human hands (both obscene and not) are preferred themes. She had carved the mermaid four years before it was bought 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 that he was angry at the accusation that he copied the mermaid from Eriksen. “As an artist, you understand all kinds of things – and of course I’ve seen pictures of the Langelinie mermaid,” Moerk said. “But that was my inspiration.”

He had bought a large piece of granite and kept it in his courtyard, not knowing what to carve. But late one night, his muse struck, and he quickly sketched the mermaid on paper he kept by his bed for moments like this. “Sometimes the stone talks to you,” he said.

“The thought of the mermaid disappearing bothers him,” she said. “I didn’t think we were destroying the artworks in Denmark. That’s something the Taliban do.”

While the Eriksen estate is seeking just 37,000 Danish kroner, about $6,000 in damages, both Moerk and Klitgaard said they felt the case was motivated by greed. The property’s copyright will expire in 2029 – 70 years after the artist’s death – and the mayor of Broenderslev said he thought they “could be trying to get paid before then”. There are a lot of cases where they get paid for this sort of thing.”

There really is. As early as 1937, Eriksen successfully sued a Danish craft company for producing needlework patterns for a mermaid whose body was modeled after his wife, Eline.

More recently, its heirs sued the Danish newspaper Berlingske after it published images of the statue: one caricature of a mermaid with a zombie face; the other is a photo of him wearing a coronavirus mask. In 2020, Copenhagen City Court found that the newspaper had indeed infringed copyright and fined 285,000 kroner, approximately $45,000, plus court costs.

The Eriksen heirs have also sued artist Bjoern Noergaard, who incorporated the iconic likeness of “The Little Mermaid” into their work, such as “The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid,” a sculpture that stands several hundred meters from the original. Noergaard got into trouble with the property in 2008 after he used a photo of “The Little Mermaid” in a collage. But what Eriksen’s heirs failed to realize on the phone was that “artists were always referring to other artists.”

When Jacobsen commissioned the original sculpture, he said he taught Eriksen how and where to position the mermaid, and even modeled the face of a dancer he fell in love with after seeing the industrialist perform at a ballet. A version of Hans Christian Andersen’s story.

“So, in this case, the artist got the motif from another artist,” Noergaard said, “and he got the design from the client.”

The village of Asaa can also get some hope from the town of Greenville, Michigan. In 2009, the Eriksen mansion got wind of a statue of the Little Mermaid perched for 15 years on the banks of the Straight River there. The town’s Danish heritage. Through Artist Rights Association In New York, he accused the town of “unauthorized duplication” and sued for $3,700. She later dropped the claim for unknown reasons, but it’s possible that the Michigan mermaid was stupid. expression and mullet-like hairstyle – very different from the wispy braid of her Copenhagen counterpart – played a role.

The port’s chairman, Thomas Nymann, said Asaa, with a population of less than 1,200, would have a hard time paying any damages. But what he most hopes to avoid is having to destroy the statue, he added.

“A lot of people in town donated money for all the shops for this,” he said. “They’ll all be very upset if we lose.”

Mayor Klitgaard also opposed the idea of ​​paying compensation, saying that many citizens of his small community expressed similar sentiments. “If ours were bronze, same height and face: OK. But they are quite different. Besides,” she said with a wink. “She’s obviously a native. She looks just like an Asaa girl.”

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