January 17, 2012

British company says it will use legal loophole to publish Hitler in Germany


Less than a month after Britain’s biggest bookstore chain, Waterstones, had to apologize because branches in Yorkshire, Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire “pushed Adolf Hitler‘s manifesto Mein Kampf as the ‘perfect’ Christmas present” (see the Guardian report), the book is back in the news with yet another British company promoting it.

According to a report in the Telegraph by Matthew Day, London-based publishing house Albertas Press has decided to publish the book in Germany—even though it’s been effectively banned there by the copyright holder—by exploiting what it thinks is a loophole in German copyright law.

As the Telegraph report explains, the copyright is owned by the state of Bavaria, “which has so far refused to produce the book, arguing it could enflame racial tensions, and could be exploited for propaganda by the far right. German law also restricts the publication or production of Nazi material to educational purposes only, ruling out any commercial enterprise.”

But Albertas thinks it can go around the copyright laws by printing the book in extracts of “three 15-page editions, each with a print run of 100,000” because, as Albertas spokesman Alexander Luckow claims to the Telegraph, copyright only applies “to the publication of complete works.”

A Reuters wire story by Alice Baghdijian adds the further detail that the extracts “will be distributed as a supplement to the company’s existing weekly publication, a controversial series called ‘Zeitungszeugen’, or ‘Newspaper Witnesses’, which reprints pages of Nazi newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s, along with a commentary.”

 Albertas head Peter McGee tells Reuters, “We want ‘Mein Kampf’ to be accessible so people can see it for what it is, and then discard it. Once exposed, it can be consigned to the dustbin of literature.”

According to both reports, the Bavarian Finance Ministry, which has overseen the copyright ever since the state siezed Hitler’s possessions after the war, has issued a warning to Albertas that it sees the move as a clear violation of copyright and will “consider legal action.”

A report in Der Spiegel however, portrays the Ministry’s opposition as even more firm than that: It quotes the Ministry statement as saying in would use “all means at its disposal” to stop Albertas. The report also notes that “Albertas didn’t even speak to the Bavarian finance ministry before going ahead with the project,” and the company “has secured the services of Berlin lawyer Ulrich Michel.”

So how far will Albertas go? Referring to a 2009 uproar caused by McGee when he first published extracts from Nazi newspapers, the Der Speigel report notes, “McGee likes a fight and is no stranger to scandal.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives