Literary characters and copyright protection: the Pippi Longstocking case


Jens Künzel

The Federal Supreme Court of Germany has decided a case which may shape German legal notions of the scope of protection which a work of literature may provide against (perceived) copying or acts of forfeiture.

The plaintiff in this case asserted itself the rightful owner of all copyrights concerning the literary works of Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of works such as Pippi Longstocking, Emil and The Brothers Lionheart. In this case, the plaintiff claimed copyright protection for the literary character of Pippi Longstocking against a picture, used in order to advertise a costume of a girl that—as the plaintiff asserted—showed the outward features of the character.

These features were red hair with pigtails and stockings of different colours or patterns, similar to how the character was described in the books by Lindgren, so the plaintiff said. The defendant was a well-known discount shop with stores all over Germany. 

"The protection can be based on the distinctive traits, and therefore also on the outward appearance of the character, if that was part of the story."

Copyright, Pippi Longstocking, IP, Germany, Federal Supreme Court