The Court of Justice of the European Union has recently ruled
that the concept of parody must be regarded as an autonomous
concept of EU law, in the case known as Dechmyn v.
Vandersteen (case Case C 201/13).
Johan Dechmyn was a member of a far right political party in
Belgium, and at a 2011 event he distributed calendars which
included an image adapted from the cover of a comic book from
Vandersteen's comic series, which is known in English by the
title Spike and Suzie.
In the adaption of the comic book cover, the mayor of Ghent was
depicted as one of the comic book characters, throwing gold coins
to immigrants. The heirs of the owner of the original work sued in
Belgium for infringement of copyright.
The Brussels Court of Appeal referred certain matters to the
Court of Justice of the European Union in respect of parody
The original and modified images at issue in the case were as
The defendant Dechmyn argued that the modified image was a
political cartoon which fell within the scope of parody, and
therefore permission from the copyright owner was not required.
The CJEU stated that parody must be regarded as an autonomous
concept of EU law and interpreted uniformly throughout the European
The Court found that there were two basic criteria for parody:
Firstly that the work of parody evokes an existing work while being
noticeably different from it, and, secondly, the work must
constitute an expression of humour or mockery.
The reference to humour or mockery is wider than some
jurisdictions interpret parody, such as the United States, where
some courts require that the parody specifically comment on the
original work or its creator.
The European Court found that parody does not
require (i) that the parody must display an original character of
its own, other than displaying noticeable differences with respect
to the original work; (ii) that it could be reasonably attributed
to a person other than the author of the original work, nor (iii)
that it must relate to the original work or mention the source of
the original work.
The Court found that the exception for parody must strike a fair
balance between the interests of the owner, and freedom of
expression of the user.
However, the Court also noted that the use in this case may
convey a discriminatory message, and the Court ruled that it was to
be determined by the National Court whether the parody was
discriminatory, which might negate the parody protection. The Court
stated that the owners of the work have a legitimate interest in
ensuring that it is not associated with such a discriminatory
This decision will be of interest to creators distributing works
of parody in the European market.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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