Friday, March 18, 2005

Copyright Censorship: Mein Kampf

Hitler's Mein Kampf apparently is a bestseller in Turkey at the moment, possibly fuelled by anti-American sentiments, as this LA Times article suggests. To many people this sudden interest is distressing, as is any interest in the work. Both access to and distribution of Mein Kampf have been prevented in the past, most notably by the German state of Bavaria. After WWII it acquired the copyright on the work and has been avid enforcer of it ever since. It has control, or so it claims, over all editions except the English and the Dutch. The Dutch government seized the rights over the Dutch translation, also after WWII. Since then any sale in The Netherlands of the book is prohibited. Copyright is used as a tool of censorship

The state of Bavaria legally challenges publications of Mein Kampf worldwide to prevent this anti-Semitic work to spread as Nazi propaganda. Only recently the state of Bavaria said to seek legal actions against a publication in Poland. Earlier this week a Czech was prevented from further publication on intellectual property grounds, after initially being cleared by the Supreme Court from a conviction based on the charge that his action supported a movement that aims to suppress human rights. In '98 another Supreme Court, the Swedish', dismissed an action by the state of Bavaria for lack of standing to exert its copyright.

These are all examples of legal enforcement against the distribution of physical copies. But how does this hold up on the internet? A Google search (mein kampf) brings you to a variety of sites that offer the text of the book online. Some have clearly anti-Semitic tendencies, others are retailers like Amazon, and the first hit is Google print. A Dutch version is found in seconds. It looks like a crystal-clear scan of the original translation the Dutch government tries to keep out of the hands of its citizens. When it comes to Mein Kampf the internet indeed treats the (copyright) censorship as damage and routes around it. Even if this censorship seeks to prevent damage in the first place. Long before Mein Kampf's copyright expires in 2016 the internet has disclosed it for better or worse.

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