Facebook reverses Little Mermaid censorship

The Local Denmark
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Facebook reverses Little Mermaid censorship
Photos of the Little Mermaid present quite the challenge. Photo: Colourbox

Danish MP Mette Gjerskov has found out the hard way that sharing a photo of the Little Mermaid is no simple task.


The Social Democrat attempted to promote her blog on broadcaster TV2’s website with a Facebook ad that included an image of what is arguably Denmark’s most iconic statue. 
The image, however, was initially blocked by Facebook for violating the social media network’s policies on nudity. 
“The Little Mermaid is simply too naked for Facebook. I cannot advertise for my blog because TV2 chose the mermaid as the visual attraction. I hadn’t seen it coming that our national treasure would be categorized on the same level as child pornography and that sort of abomination,” Gjerskov wrote on Facebook with a screen shot of the company’s rejection, which pointed to “too much bare skin or sexual undertones”. 
Gjerskov appealed Facebook’s decision and late on Sunday the social media giant reversed course and decided that the statue, which is based upon Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, was acceptable after all. 
But the case did not end there. While Facebook may have given its nod of approval, TV2 had second thoughts and pulled the photo in favour of a generic shot of the Danish flag. The reason? The copyright issues surrounding one of Denmark’s most photographed attractions. 
The family of sculptor Edvard Eriksen is known for being very aggressive about the sculpture’s copyright and numerous Danish media outlets have received a large bill in the mail for using a photo of the Little Mermaid – even though it is arguably the most recognisable image in all of Denmark. 
Media outlets, including The Local, have shied away from using photos of the Little Mermaid out of fear of having to fork over a hefty sum to the sculptor’s heirs. According to Gjerskov, TV2 decided that the risk was simply not worth it. 
“TV2 has removed the Little Mermaid from my blog because it risks a large bill due to the copyright. Apparently one can’t publish photos of our national treasure without a substantial payment to the artist’s heirs. That’s what the law – approved by parliament – says,” she wrote.
Danish media outlets and the press photographers’ association have been critical of the restrictions on the usage of photos of the Little Mermaid, particularly when those same images can be found all over the internet. 
“As photographers, we have great respect for copyright, which we ourselves benefit from. But the Little Mermaid is maybe the most frequently photographed motif in Copenhagen so it’s a bit grotesque that you need to be so careful using the photo editorially,” Lars Lindskov told Politiken in a 2013 story about the copyright issues (which was illustrated with this photo). 
The copyright laws stipulate that photos of the Little Mermaid and other public art cannot be used for business purposes when the artwork is the main focus of the photo. Use in media is considered a ‘business purpose’ under the law. There are exceptions for using the photos if there is a clear ‘news context’ but even then many Danish outlets are hesitant to use a clear photo of the Little Mermaid for fear of an unexpected bill, as evidenced by our photo choice above. 



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