Yet another copyright struggle about "Mein Kampf"

Some of our readers may recall the IPKat's reports of 2009 on the Zeitungszeugen case which concerned a copyright battle between the Bavarian State government and a British publisher relating to the re-publication of historical Nazi newspapers in an educational reprint series. (see the IPKat's earlier posts here, here and here). The IPKat then reported in 2010 that the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute of Contemporary History, "IfZ"), a German history institute based in Munich, planned to prepare an annotated version of Adolf Hitler's controversial book "Mein Kampf" (in English: "My Struggle") for publication in Germany after 2015.

According to various press reports (here, here, here) British publisher Peter McGee, who is also behind Zeitungszeugen, has now also announced his plans to publish selected excerpts of "Mein Kampf" in Germany and it appears he does not want to wait until 2015. He claims he wants "demystify" the "unreadable" book and his excerpts will include a column of the original text next to a column of historical and critical comment.

By way of background: contrary to popular belief in Germany, "Mein Kampf" is is not banned in Germany but it should be noted that "Mein Kampf" can only be re-published when the copyright held by the Bavarian State government (more precisely the Finance Ministry) will expire in 2015 - 70 years after Hitler's death. The Bavarian State government took over the rights of the main Nazi party publishing house Eher-Verlag after the end of World War II as part of the Allies' de-Nazification programme.

As to be expected, the Bavarian State Government is not pleased, reports Der Spiegel, and the Bavarians will try to block the publication since "permission to publish the prints is neither granted in Germany nor abroad."

While this Kat agrees that there is some merit in Mr McGee's argument trying to "demystify" the book, she somehow does not think that spreading its awful content further is a good idea. Dieter Graumann, president of the German Central Council of Jews, appears to take a more relaxed view, again according to Der Spiegel, mr Graumann echoes Mr McGee's argument about "demystifying" the book, espcially since it was already available via the Internet for everyone to read.

So should the Bavarian State government still try to police the content of the book and should this be done via copyright law when really this is a political decision?
Yet another copyright struggle about "Mein Kampf" Yet another copyright struggle about "Mein Kampf" Reviewed by Birgit Clark on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. My edition of Mein Kampf was published in the UK in the 1930s as a fund raiser for the British Red Cross.

    I am not a great fan of banning books, even badly written, racist rubbish like Mein Kampf, but believe it may be justified to do so if publication may trigger Antisemitism.

    If that is the fear, the book should be banned on those grounds, not by abusing copyright law.

  2. I do not subscribe to an Index Librorum Prohibitorum, and I find it a mistrust in the intelligence of potential readers to ban a book. After all, intelligence is not even a prerequisite to voting in a democracy.

    That said, I am wondering more and more why people outside of Germany who did read Mein Kampf and compared the content to real life in Germany after 1933 were not listened to. Many of Leland Stone's articles could not be printed in New York Herald Tribune, and he had to publish them in a book, "Nazi Germany Means War" in 1933 (London). When E.O. Lorimer published the Penguin Book "What Hitler Wants" in 1939 it was already too late. At that time, Sinclair Lewis had written "It Can't Happen Here" in 1935, demonstrating on paper that it could - in the US. By 1939 the complete and unexpurgated English translation of Mein Kampf was published by Stackpole Sons in New York. But the translation is so heavy and Germanistic that most people might want to learn German to read the original.

    It is very strange that Germany that has published so much from the Nazi era archives at low cost is using the Berne convention to prevent publication of one of the most important documents to understand the era.

    And, again, I wonder why the death of the author has been used to calculate the protection period. It would be much more democratic to use the longer of the two periods: 100 years after the birth of the author or the actual life span. All authors would be equal.

    George Brock-Nannestad

  3. Thank you for that interesting article.

    I am not sure if "Mein Kampf" is "not banned in Germany". While the Federal Court of Justice acquitted someone in 1979 who offered two historical books at a flea market, they didn't discuss Article 130 of the penal law, only Article 86.

    If the publication is illegal, one would need to discuss if it is appropriate to recognize copyright in illegal works. That is an interesting question which merits considering when discussing why there is copyright in the first place. It would also be necessary to explain why copyright in illegal works is possible while patents in illegal or immoral inventions are not.

  4. @Karl-Friedrich Lenz - Thanks for your comment. I remember that we discussed Section 130 StGB at uni and it was previously also my view that the book could qualify as "Volksverhetzung" or "incitement to hatred" in the sense of 130 StGB ( However, it seems to be general view now that it does not fall under 130 StGB. I can certainly see how you would argue 130 StGB which would also make it a lot more clear to the general public why it cannot be published.

  5. @Dr Michael Factor: my very personal and absolutely subjective view is that it should not be spread further. I usually do not like censorship of any kind and believe that people should be allowed to form their own views, absolutely agree with you. This to me is a special case.

  6. I believe that the book should be mandatory reading for young Germans and Austrians (and recommended reading for everybody else). If this can only be accomplished by re-publishing it (as I think it does), then let's do so.

    BTW, the book is quite different from what one would expect. Alfred Rosenberg, for instance, is much more explicit.


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