Global Freedom of Expression

Deckmyn v. Vandersteen

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Books / Plays
  • Date of Decision
    September 3, 2014
  • Outcome
    Remanded for Decision in Accordance with Ruling
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Belgium, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Artistic Expression, Licensing / Media Regulation
  • Tags
    Discrimination, Copyright

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The European Court of Justice defined the parody exception to copyrights laws within Article 5(3)(k) of EU Directive 2001/29 as one that evokes an existing work while being noticeably different from it along with an expression of humour or mockery.  The Court held that the determination of whether a use of parody amounts to an exception  requires striking a fair balance between the rights of the person who created the original work and the freedom of expression of the individual who is relying on the exception of parody. 


In 2011, the Defendant, a member of Vlaams Belang political party in Belgium, produced and distributed calendars with a drawing that resembled the cover page of a copy-righted comic book written by the Plaintiff. 

The Plaintiff subsequently brought a copyright infringement action in the Court of First Instance in Brussels against the Defendant.  The court ordered the Defendant to cease all use of the drawing.

The Defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that the drawing did not infringe the Plaintiff’s copyright because it was a political cartoon within the use of parody exception under Article 22(1)(6) of the Belgium’s Copyrights Law, which states that “[o]nce a work has been lawfully published, its author may not prohibit . . . caricature, parody and pastiche, observing fair practice.”  

The Plaintiff countered that the drawing was not a parody because it lacked the essential elements of a parody work, such as originality, display of humorous traits, the objective of ridiculing the original work. 

The Court of Appeals of Brussels stayed the proceedings and referred the case to the European Court of Justice to address the concept of parody and its essential elements under the European Union law

Decision Overview

The Court first determined that the concept of parody under Article 5(3)(k) of Directive 2001/29 is “an autonomous concept of EU law and interpreted uniformly throughout the European Union.” [para. 15] 

The Court then analyzed the exception of parody.  It defined the essential characteristics of a parody work as “first, to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it, and, secondly, to constitute an expression of humour or mockery.” [para. 20] It also ruled that contrary to the Plaintiff’s position, the exception of parody does not require the establishment of certain conditions, such as originality and display of a character different from the original work.

According to the Court, the determination of whether a use of parody falls within an exception to EU copyrights law requires striking a fair balance between the interests and rights of the person who created the original work and the freedom of expression of the individual who is relying on the exception of parody.  [para. 27]   

The Plaintiff argued that the drawing produced by the Defendant conveyed a discriminatory message, capable of associating the original drawing to that message.  The Court held that if the domestic court finds the drawing as discriminatory in nature, the Plaintiff would have “a legitimate interest in ensuring that the work protected by copyright is not associated with such a message.” 

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings as to whether the Defendant’s drawing conveyed a discriminatory message.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

In determining whether a parody work amounts to a copyright exception, the European Court of Justice demanded striking a fair balance between the rights and interests of the copyright owner and the freedom of the expression of the person who is relying on the parody exception. 

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ECJ., Football Association Premier League and Others, C 403/08 and C 429/08, EU:C:2011:631

    The Court held that “the interpretation of the concept of parody must, in any event, enable the effectiveness of the exception thereby established to be safeguarded and its purpose to be observed.”

  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union Article 21
  • EU Directive 2001/29/EC (05/22/2001) art. 5(3)(k)

    The exception of caricature, parody or pastiche.

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

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