Sweden has invoked a previously-unknown “Perpetual Copyright” clause against carmaker Mercedes-Benz, who recited a public-domain work by the poet Boye in a recent ad. The legal threat was brought by the Swedish Academy, which is tasked with overseeing the clause. This has severe chilling effect on culture even 70 years past an artists’ death.
Mercedes-Benz used a recital from the poet Karin Boye in a recent ad. She passed in 1941, and her work has therefore been in the public domain since January 1, 2012, under the planet’s most stringent copyright monopoly laws. “Public domain” is supposed to mean free for anybody to use for any purpose without restriction.
However, a number of self-appointed cultural guardians were horrified that a commercial company was actually legally allowed to use something in the public domain for an advertisement, and invoked an until-now-unknown clause in the copyright monopoly law that amounts to nothing less than perpetual monopoly: the Swedish Academy, most known for selecting the yearly Nobel Laureate in Literature, decided to sue Mercedes-Benz under an obscure “protection of cultural heritage” clause in the copyright monopoly law. They even go as far as calling it “graverobbing” of the late poet.
This is utterly insane. If something is in the public domain, which happens much too late anyway, then everybody and their brother must be unconditionally certain they have the right to use it as they like – or it is, by definition, not in the public domain. The Swedish Academy just introduced a perpetual clearance culture, effectively killing the Swedish cultural heritage rather than allowing it to live on and take new forms.
It should be particularly noted that the Boye heritage had already agreed to the poem’s usage in the Mercedes ad, despite not having to be asked permission for a public-domain work.
Also, a recent ad by car manufacturer Volvo, an ad where the Swedish national anthem was recited, was not hit with any such lawsuit. Seeing how Volvo has Swedish origin (but is now Chinese-owned), this can be construed as a trade embargo against other European manufacturers with little effort. If the Swedish Academy gets sued to high hell over their invocation of the high-horse “perpectual copyright” clause, I would be happy.