Swedish police seize books criticizing Sweden's collaboration with Nazis

The entire stock of 'This is a Swedish Tiger' was seized in a dawn raid of the publisher's offices.

The Swedish flag is seen at Gamla Stan, the Old City of Stockholm, Sweden, May 7, 2017. (photo credit: INTS KALNINS / REUTERS)
The Swedish flag is seen at Gamla Stan, the Old City of Stockholm, Sweden, May 7, 2017.
(photo credit: INTS KALNINS / REUTERS)
A Swedish author and satirist has had his entire inventory of books seized in a raid carried out by armed police, sparking a debate in the Scandinavian country over whether satirical content can be considered a copyright breach.
The entire stock of the latest edition of This is a Swedish Tiger by Aron Flam was seized by prosecutor in Stockholm in the police raid, from the offices of the publisher Samizdat in the early hours of Thursday morning. In total some 2,200 books were seized, amounting to nearly 1.5 tonnes of printed material.
The book takes as it's starting point the Swedish wartime propaganda slogan "A Swedish tiger," which is a play on words – "tiger" in Swedish can mean the animal, but is also the present tense of the verb "to keep silent," meaning that the slogan can also be read "a Swede keeps silent." The phrase is therefore comparable to the United Kingdom's "careless talk costs lives" or the United States' "loose lips sink ships."
Swedish author and illustrator Bertil Almqvist was commissioned by the Swedish National Board of Information to illustrate the slogan for a poster, which became the centerpiece of the Swedish Vigilance Campaign. The poster featured a yellow tiger with blue stripes.
However, Flam questions the need for the slogan, given that Sweden was neutral in the war and therefore "had no ships to sink."
In a statement, the author explained that the "book reveals how Sweden’s social democrats managed to not only escape blame for its cooperation with Hitler's Germany during the war. But also how they got away with the gold, re-established contacts with other former allies of the Nazi’s, and silently rebuilt the world to suit their ends."
Following the war, Sweden was forced by the allied powers to pay war damages to the victims of the Holocaust, yet it was also the only country forced to pay reparations to Germany.
But the cover of Flam's book features a similar tiger, yellow with blue stripes, albeit sporting a swastika, which the current owners of the copyright claim is an infringement of their intellectual property.
Speaking to Cultural News, Flam said: "In my professional role, I joke about symbols. Symbols for religions, corporate symbols, political ideologies, historical symbols... A Swedish Tiger is a kind of mixture of them and important in Sweden's history."
Almqvist died in 1972, but under Swedish law, copyright of artistic materials stays with an artist's heirs until 70 years after their death, meaning that the tiger won't be out of copyright for another 22 years. In this case, ownership of the rights was handed by the family to the Defense Museum in Djuramossa, a private museum dedicated to military history.
According to the Swedish magazine Ledarsidorna, Flam and the Museum exchanged correspondence on the matter, during which time Flam replaced the artwork with a painted plastic tiger. Correspondence then ceased, and Flam assumed that the matter had come to an end – until the raid on Thursday.
The courts will now decide whether Flam's illustration is an infringement of intellectual rights. But the case has sparked controversy due to the satirical nature of his illustration. The question is whether the modifications Flam gave to the tiger – which he depicted giving a Nazi salute, wearing a swastika on an armband – is differentiated enough from the original.
Culture columnist Mattias Svensson, commenting on the case in Aftonbladet on Thursday, wrote: "It is an alarming example of how far current copyright extends. Since Flam's depicted tiger differs in many respects from the Almquist, this means that the copyright in a convict judgment prohibits parodies and allusions.
"With this interpretation, the copyright holder owns not only the work, but the right to wash away all future responses to this work, a significant interference with artistic freedom and the opportunity to tell about our Swedish history.
"Furthermore, the fact that a book can be confiscated without prior trial gives the copyright a greater weight than the free word. This is not about some cheap plagiarism of famous clothing brands, but about a highly independent literary work in a country where freedom of the press has a special position in the Constitution."
Flam, meanwhile, has questioned whether copyright was the root cause of the raid. "They did not want me to continue using my tiger, but I think, and I suspect they think, that this is the central symbol of Swedish silence culture, not only during the war but ongoing – since then," he told Cultural News.
If the court rules against him, Flam will be liable for damages and a fine of up to half a million króna, approximately NIS 185,000.