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I believe the copyright on Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf was appropriated by the Allies after WWII. But what about copyrights on other Nazi media?

Consider this image, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Der_ewige_Jude_poster.jpg

It was created for a Nazi propaganda film by Hans Schweitzer, who is now deceased.

The owner would presumably be the National Socialist Party, which is now defunct. That would place it in the public domain.

But could the U.S. government or some other Western entity claim the copyright rights to this image?

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  • The Unabomber was caught through some pamphlets he produced, and he claimed that his arrest was illegal because it was based on the government committing copyright infringement. I suppose that’s somehow related.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 3 at 16:28
  • It is interesting. Aug 3 at 17:29
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There's nothing special about the Nazi Party wrt copyright law

So the analysis follows the same route as it does for anyone else.

Under German law, copyright is inalienable - there is no corporate ownership of copyright in Germany, the work always belongs to the author. Other people, including corporations, can be licenced to commercially exploit the copyright but they cannot own it.

The Nazi Party never owned the copyright, however, there is an implicit term in employment contracts that an employer (and it is unclear if Schweitzer was an employee or a contractor) has an exclusive commercial licence in works created by their employees subject to the things that can't be transferred (e.g. the author's right to be identified). This term can be made implicit or waived. Of course, for a contractor, the licence needs to be dealt with in the contract.

However, licences granted before the mid-1990s could not grant rights in media that did not exist: whatever' the Nazi Party's licence, it cannot have covered publication on the internet. Notwithstanding, the end of the Nazi Party meant the end of any contracts or licences (which are different things in civil law, unlike common law where a licence is a type of contract) they were a party to.

Schweitzer died in 1980 so the work is under copyright until 31 December 2050 inclusive. It is owned by his heirs, whoever they are.

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  • More precisely, by all the living heirs and the heirs of the deceased heirs that inherited the copyright collectively, unless there was a will that did exclude some branch from one or another inheritance.
    – Trish
    Aug 3 at 11:17
  • "However, licences granted before the mid-1990s could not grant rights in media that did not exist:" Not so. I have often seen license which grant right "In any media now know or later invented" or similar terms. Aug 3 at 20:53
  • @DavidSiegel under German law?
    – Dale M
    Aug 3 at 21:08
  • @daleM, I have seen such terms in English-langauge books printed in Europe, presumably including Germany as part of their market. Does German law forbid such a license term? Licenses are crafted by or on behalf of copyright owners, not by the law. But I don't know what terms these works might have used. Aug 3 at 21:18
  • @Dale M Some further research indicates that such licenses were prohibited under German law until 2008, which seems odd, but law is sometimes odd. I had not expected that. Aug 3 at 21:23
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I believe the copyright on Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf was appropriated by the Allies after WWII.

The U.S. government seized the copyright within the United States in September 1942 during the Second World War under the Trading with the Enemy Act (and was sold in 1979 to a US publisher).

After WWII, AH property, including intellectual, were confiscated by the US Military Government. This was later passed on to the Bavarian Goverment. The Copyright ran out on the 31st of December 2015 (70 years after the authors death).


The owner would presumably be the National Socialist Party, which is now defunct. That would place it in the public domain.

The film was produced by the Deutsche Filmherstellungs- und Verwertungs- GmbH (DFG), which belonged to the NSDAP. The property of the NSDAP was also confiscated after WWII, portions of which went to individual german states.

Since the NSDAP was founded in Bavaria, the intellectual rights probably belongs to them. I couldn't find a source that states explicitly who owns the copywrite of the DFG films.

What is known is that Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation (which owns the copywrite of films that had belonged to the german state) does not own the copyright, but exercises it on behalf of the owners.

But could the U.S. government or some other Western entity claim the copyright rights to this image?

Although portions of the NSDAP property was redistributed by the military government, I found no hint that intellectual rights were included.


Sources:

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