The German State of Bavaria won a copyright battle last week when Prague’s municipal court issued a verdict against the publisher, KMa, for copyright infringement, ordering them to withdraw and destroy copies of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.
The notorious book, published in 1925, expresses Hitler’s desire to exterminate Jews and occupy territory in Eastern Europe. Bavaria holds the copyright to the book.
Copyright in the UK tradition, from the Statute of Anne onwards, was about allowing publishers to have a monopoly on their work for a limited period to make it worth their while publishing. The Continental tradition was more about rewarding the author with the fruits of his labour.
I sympathise with attempts to prevent further publication and dissemination of this hate work, but I am not sure that copyright is the correct tool to use. I am no fan of lex specialis, but if the issue is to prevent publication of a rabid antisemitic book that can be mis-used by right-wing extremists, then maybe a special law is required. At least in such circumstances it would be clear that the issue is censorship and not copyright.
My copy of Mein Kampf was published in English in the thirties in Britain, in serial form as a series of weekly instalments, royalties to the British Red Cross. Like a number of booklets and pamphlets I’ve collected over the years, I find the views expressed abhorrent and the writing style awful. It is, however, an important document that should generally be available to historians and scholars.
It is not just copyright that is being (mis)used to prevent historical analysis. Apparently, Valentin Ceausescu the son of former Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu is suing the Odeon theatre in Bucharest for performing a play about his parents called “The Last Hours of Ceausescu”, claiming infringement of the trade mark “Ceausescu” which apparently he owns. See Dispute over “Ceausescu” trade mark on the IPKAT.
It is reported that Mr Ceausescu is suing for nominal damages of 0.25 Euro only as this was a matter of “principle” for him, that no one should be allowed to use the name Ceausescu without consent.
I am aware that my comments re Bavaria stopping Mein Kampf publishing may be offensive to some, as the issue is emotionally loaded, particularly for the high proportion of my readers that are Jewish. Should the son of a deceased political figure have the rights to choose what can be said about his father because a trademark was registered? Surely his rights should be limited to being able to sue for libel if facts are misinterpreted?
Please note: I am not suggesting moral equivalence between Hitler and Ceausescu. Nor am I suggesting legal equivalence between copyright and trademarks. I am fully aware of the differences. Those, nevertheless, wishing to take me to task, are invited to comment.