Sweden Invokes Little-Known "Perpetual Copyright" Clause Against Mercedes Ad

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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. gurrfield

    What about still demanding attribution of said works? Like a small note in the commercial saying “this beautiful poem created by Karin Boye, RIP” or something of the sort.

    Otherwise the copyright proponents may win with their old strategy of tricking people to think that the economic monopoly intrusion and plagiarism are the same, as they usually try…

    1. Autolykos

      While attribution is common decency (and required in academic context, regardless of copyright) it should not be required by law for stuff in the public domain. If the recitation will actually become more popular than the original (happens quite a lot with quotations and aphorisms), then so be it. Misattributions happen, and a law for protecting the fame of people who got eaten by the worms long ago is utterly pointless. If you’re concerned about preserving the memory of that author, you can just show people the original (or point them to Wikipedia after clarifying the relevant article). Lawyers need not get involved there.

      1. gurrfield

        “Misattributions happen, and a law for protecting the fame of people who got eaten by the worms long ago is utterly pointless.”

        If I pay someone with the intent of letting them get more money to produce more of the culture I like, then my investment is missing the point if the person I’m paying could pretend to have created a work which has fallen into the public domain.

        1. Autolykos

          Your “investment” is only missing its point if that point was to milk the creative person for money. If you want to enjoy culture, you can do that with works in the public domain just as well as with those you “bought”. What the creative person does with money you give them is their business anyway.
          Please correct me if you meant something different; your post is not completely clear to me, and I don’t quite get how it answers to anything in my post.

        2. gurrfield

          “Your “investment” is only missing its point if that point was to milk the creative person for money.”

          I don’t see what you mean. What do you mean “milk for money”?

          I give them money based on previous performance with hope they will use the money to produce more originals for me to enjoy.

          When copyright dies, “buying” or “consuming” media will be meaningless.

          It becomes “donating for” or “investing in”. If attribution is not guaranteed then someone not related can bring in money based on other people’s previous performances.

  2. Anonymous

    you know the society we are being herded into, Rik, a society where everyone has to seek permission from someone else before doing anything! failure to do so means fines, imprisonment and probably not far away, a death sentence from the copyright industries, just as it was in years gone by!! what the hell sort of world are we allowing to come into existence, where corporations are in charge, where money is the only thing that matters??

  3. Ninja

    The question is, what benefit will the author have? And considering our culture thrives upon the reuse and transformation of what’s already there (with very little new elements added) what if Ms Boye herself built upon some “cultural heritage” thus “defacing” it? Shouldn’t her estate be sued for it too? Of course one cannot expect sanity from copyright laws anywhere so the solution is total abolishment of the very concept of IP. Want your idea not to be “stolen”? Keep it to yourself.

    1. gurrfield

      Yes “defacing” of works by dead people can’t possibly be judged by someone other than the same person, however one can demand attribution – that the “new artist” who have “remixed” write clearly where the originals can be found in their original context and who their creators are.

      Ideas are already being spied upon and stolen with extensive IP laws of today.

      Have you not read about the NSA scandals? Patents and copyrights are legal tools to lock in whatever has been spied on and the spying organizations are the means to get ahold of it.

      There’s not as much money in spying if you can no longer lock in whatever you find as your own and prohibit others from using it.

  4. TG

    What next? Austria suing over Mozart ringtones?

  5. Arachnidia

    If the poem is in the public domain, then this law is effectively a restriction of free speech

  6. […] Sweden Invokes Little-Known ‘Perpetual Copyright’ Clause Against Mercedes Ad […]

  7. Anonymous

    i assume, therefore, that regardless of what other laws are in place, this can be used to trump the lot? if that is the case and other countries go down similar roads, the internet could become just as screwed as we fear anyway. all thanks to an incumbent industry that refuses to change for no reason other than it wants to control the best distribution platform invented so far!

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  10. Mathias Klang

    But is a little cultural protection really a bad thing? I wrote a reply here http://klangable.com/blog/?p=4268

    1. NoJS

      The article is not criticizing “little cultural protection” so either your headline is misleading or you’re replying to something he didn’t say.

      Either way I won’t click your link.

      1. Mathias Klang

        I was defending the position of having a part of copyright law in order to protect cultural works. I was arguing against Rickard. Feel free not to click on any links you see online…

    2. Autolykos

      A more serious problem with your blog is that the sidebar covers part of the text and the X button seems to be broken (at least on my setup; Firefox 11 on Ubuntu). That makes your reply pretty hard to read, since I have to guess half of what you said…

  11. Erik Gustafsson

    I very much respect this decision! While I think the copyright time should be reduced to maybe the creators death or shortly thereafter, the fact that the art isn’t allowed to be used for something the creator would have greatly opposed is a positive thing. It’s great if my music won’t be permitted for use in ads for fascism or consumerism when I am dead.

    1. Bitcoin Woman

      Don’t you think, that after you die you won’t care? After your death you have absolutely no control over use of your work. Furthermore, with a little interpretation done by lawyers and copyright swindlers it can be used against your will, but still formally in line with it.
      Maybe the right choice would be to resign of feeding ourselves with such illusions and just approve what is real – after your brain is dead you have no control nor right to object to further use of your creation.
      Da Vinci could also have objections as to putting his sketches over toilet appliances – http://www.stylepark.com/en/news/marcel-and-the-waterless-fountain/317707.
      Law should reflect reality, though after death all non-material rights should be expire.

    2. gurrfield

      Well, it is difficult for anyone other than the dead person to judge what use he or she would have accepted. However one can still have a demand of attribution, forcing users to refer to the original work in it’s original context.

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