Estate Of Joseph Goebbels Using Copyright To Demand Cash From New Biographer

from the that's-like-something-the-nazis...-oh-wait dept

Over the past few months, there have been a bunch of stories about the copyright status of Mein Kampf, with people fretting over the fact that the book is about to go into the public domain. The book, of course, was Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, and while few people actually read it, in Germany it hasn’t been published in decades. That’s because the US seized the Nazis’ publishing house, including its copyright in the book. It then gave that copyright to the state of Bavaria, which has used it to block the publication of Mein Kampf ever since. But, with Germany being a country where copyright is life+70, and seeing as Hitler died 70 years ago, on January 1, 2016, the book falls into the public domain (in the US, however, Houghton Mifflin apparently still retains the rights — because nothing ever goes into the public domain here).

Either way, now there’s another copyright dispute concerning a top Nazi: Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. It turns out that while his copyrights also flip over into the public domain on January 1st of next year, a UK professor, Peter Longerich, just published a new biography of Goebbels, and Goebbels’ heirs have come out of the woodwork to demand royalties, because the book quotes Goebbels’ diaries.

Cordula Schacht ? a lawyer whose own father, Hjalmar Schacht, was Hitler?s minister of economics ? is suing Random House Germany and its imprint Siedler, over the book Goebbels, by Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Longerich, an authority on the Holocaust and Nazi era Germany, drew extensively on Goebbels? diaries in his biography, which was published in Germany in 2010. Now those same passages from the diaries are set to appear in the English ?edition, which Penguin Random House UK and its imprint Bodley Head will publish on 7 May.

Most of the debate focuses on whether or not it is appropriate for money to “go to a war criminal,” as Random House’s top lawyer complains. There is also some discussion of who owns the copyright, as some believe that when the US seized the Nazis’ publishing house and got the copyright on Mein Kampf, it also got the copyright on Goebbels’ works.

Unfortunately, what’s not discussed at all is how fair use should take care of a situation like this. Tragically for both Germany and the UK, neither have fair use. The UK does have a narrowly targeted “fair dealing” concept that likely does not cover this kind of scholarly publication.

Yet, this seems to show just why fair use is such an important concept. Being able to have academic experts properly quote historical source material in writing up biographies and other analyses of historical events and people seems like a no brainer for anyone hoping to properly study and record history. Using copyright to try to lock up such information (or to put a tollbooth on it) only serves to massively limit the ability of our society to accurately study and learn from history — especially history as tragic as Nazi Germany.

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Comments on “Estate Of Joseph Goebbels Using Copyright To Demand Cash From New Biographer”

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24 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

This takes copyright insanity to a whole new level.

Considering the extreme anti-Nazi stance taken by the German government–with a good deal of support from the German people, no less–I find it difficult to understand what could possess this guy to step up and essentially say, publicly, “My father was a member of Hitler’s inner circle, and on that authority I order you to stop doing what you are doing.”

Most of the time, I can understand someone’s motivation for doing something I don’t agree with, but this… this just makes no sense.

David says:

Re: Re:

this just makes no sense.

Uh, they are not suing to have the book suppressed. They are suing for royalties.

Which is somewhat hilarious since the kind of unholy lawyering/money union pervading the whole copyright industry cancer established high correlations between certain society classes, their religion and their self-image and influence throughout medieval and succeeding centuries, leading to the rise of antisemitism in all of Europe and ultimately the awful culmination in Germany: what we have in corporatism and copyright maximalism these days is quintessentially what the Nazis with Goebbels in a leading role were able to successfully paint and sell as “Jewish World Conspiracy”.

And now Goebbel’s heirs go “All in” on the lawyering for monetizing stuff no sane person would want to be proud of.

It’s good that the Nazis have lost. But unfortunately, sanity has not stuck around with the prevailing parties.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: it makes sense as an act of desperation.

This reminds me of Cecilia Giménez, the 80-year-old Spanish art restorationist who ruined a Jesus fresco and then demanded her cut when the Church got popular as a result.

Our society has become such that the need to make money has superceded the need to behave ethically or do what is right by the community (or even true to one’s own mral character).

We are good people when when we can afford to be, but when human beings fear for our livelihood, even a downgrade in lifestyle, we quickly become dicks.

And if the Goebbels estate is controlled by a company, then there’s no moral foundation to begin with, since every person involved has their job — and their meal ticket — on the line.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A good person who isn't good when desperate isn't good.

Then I would submit that all the good people starved and died out before we were people, e.g. before we were sapient or even upright.

There is even a legal accommodation for it, specifically necessity which is a supercategory of self defense. If you are going to die without your medication, and your pharmacists refuses to issue them to you, even if for some legitimate reason such as an insurance processing problem, my necessity you can take the medication by force.

Granted, this would be a defense that is in a justice system that is very broken, and where the police would be inclined to shoot you before trial, so what is more relevant is not the incident with the pharmacists, but the incident with the police that follows.

Maybe your standards of good are different then mine. But in that case, I would submit there are no good people.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Profiting off crime.

I had thought, yeah, that profiting directly from Nazi paraphernalia was illegal thoughout Western europe. They don’t even like US GIs collecting and trading war trophies. It is much like selling artifacts from sereal killers here in the US.

There are some rules governing archeological and academic studies — you can use artifacts for scholastic purposes and display them in a museum, but trying to sell copyrights seems right out… even criminal to try.

Anonymous Coward says:

The perfect tool

I always wondered how the antagonists in dystopian future fiction would succeed in rewriting history, as they seem to do, when so much information is so readily available these days. But of course–it will be done with copyright. What better way to prosecute anyone who dares write about any governement’s questionable past.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The thing with Mein Kampf

I find the whole issue with Mein Kampf a bit weird. I’d think the text would be in the public domain as a historic work. The notion of tying it up with copyright so as to inhibit its publication glorifies it as underground and cult by making it the perview of sharers and bootleg publishers. Essentially by making it verboten it becomes even more sacred and romanticized to the neo-Nazi sectors.

In reality Mein Kampf is a scattered, poorly composed work, the product of Goebbel’s notes while Hitler paced and ranted in his prison cell. Like the bible, everyone in Nazi Germany owned a copy, yet no one actually read it. Frankly, the reading of Mein Kampf is a labor I’d gladly inflict on anyone determined to worship an ideology simply to retain justification to hate and scapegoat.

Maybe, just maybe, some of them would come to terms with the discovery that their icon was a very human very tempermental narcissistic psycho.

David says:

Re: The thing with Mein Kampf

Frankly, the reading of Mein Kampf is a labor I’d gladly inflict on anyone determined to worship an ideology simply to retain justification to hate and scapegoat.

Huh. I’ve not had much of a time to indulge but chanced upon it one time in the rather expansive bookshelf of my father. Of those parts I skimmed, I had the impression that it would be sort of persuasive, particularly without extensive contradicting news, political and sociological knowledge. You know, the kind of political education a typical U.S. resident has.

And indeed, the “our country is under attack by those seeking to destroy our way of life and we must not be queasy about squashing those who attack us” crap works perfectly well in current U.S.

It’s gobbled up just fine by the masses.

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