The region of Skåne in Sweden wanted a cheeky mascot to remind people to wash their hands and created a Swedish racoon as a mascot. The pun here is twofold, first a racoon is called a "wash bear" in Swedish, and second, it is a clear homage to "A Swedish Tiger". The striped tiger poster was a slogan and an image that became part of a propaganda campaign in Sweden during World War II. Its goal was to prevent espionage by encouraging secrecy. The tiger slogan can be read two ways, both as "a Swedish tiger" and it also means "a Swede keeps silent".
The "Swedish wash bear" was shortlived, it barely had time to appear on Region Skåne's Instagram account when the Military Preparedness Museum asked them to remove it, citing copyright infringement.
Wait, what? This is clearly a homage. I'm not a lawyer, but I play one on this site, and I'm a little surprised by this one, to be honest. How did we get here?
The original propaganda poster was created by Bertil Almqvist in 1941, it commissioned by the Swedish National Board of Information and soon became the most recognisable world war two symbol and was in continued use by the Swedish military on stickers and post-it notes until recently. Almqvist died in 1972, and in 2002 the copyright of the image and slogan was transferred to the Military Preparedness Museum.
Since the Swedish armed forces were still using the image, the museum took them to court for copyright infringement. The armed forces lost and had to pay the museum 700,000 SEK in damages.
Maria Andrée is both a lawyer and one of the founders of the Military Preparedness Museum, and she really isn't amused by the Swedish wash bear's resemblance to the Swedish Tiger.
To Kristianstadsbladet she explains her position:
"I told them to come up with something on their own. It is teeming with artists in Skåne who can make a top idea. So why twist and redo a picture that has nothing to do with it?"
Well, because of the long history Sweden has with that tiger. A similar parody would be the current Trump meme, spoofing the iconic 1917 James Montgomery Flagg poster "I want you for U.S: Army". The parody only works because the original is so famous. I don't agree that this is a clear infringement case, as it is a homage. I do agree with the lawyer however that there are plenty of oof artists in Skåne that could come up with something original, and better. The "wash bear" is a bit of a reach, not as spot-on as the "Swedish tiger" pun was.
By the way, the 1917 Uncle Sam poster was a clear appropriation of Alfred Leete's poster Lord Kitchener Wants You from 1914. Flagg has simply replaced the British War Secretary with Uncle Sam, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it, I suppose.