Arguing Over The Copyright In Schindler's List — The Actual List, Not The Movie
from the copyright-gone-mad dept
The movie Schindler’s List famously covers the story of Oskar Schindler, who saved over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by creating his “list” of essential workers, which kept them from being sent to their deaths. Now that the list itself is famous, apparently there’s a bit of a legal fight over the copyright on the actual list (found via THREsq). The details are somewhat ridiculous. Basically, Schindler made three separate copies of the actual list. One copy of the list is at the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem in Israel. Another list, which is slightly different, but considered equally authentic, ended up in the possession of Marta Erika Rosenberg, an author who had written about Schindler, and was left the list in the will after it got passed around a bit. Finally, the third list is held by a guy named Gary Zimet, who buys and sells historical memorabilia. That list came from Nathan Stern, who is the nephew of Schindler’s accountant, who was in charge of keeping the list.
Stern hired Zimet to sell the list, which seems straightforward enough… except that Rosenberg claimed that she has full ownership of the list, via her copy, including a copyright on the list. The court, in its decision basically punted on the question of copyright, because Zimet isn’t looking to publish the list, but merely sell the physical copy of the list — which has nothing to do with copyright. However, the court still does suggest that there may be a (state) common law copyright claim here. However, I have to agree with Eugene Volokh, who suggests the court got this wrong. While (as we’ve discussed) there are state common law copyrights, they’re very limited, and are mostly preempted by federal copyright law. So, as a written work, this should fall under federal copyright law. And since it’s just a list of names, there’s no copyright to be had at all. On top of that, even if there were a copyright, it’s not at all clear that Rosenberg received the copyright to the document at all when she received her copy. All in all, it’s yet another example of how people have been trained to believe that such things can be “owned.”