Saturday 11 July 2015

Publisher must pay for using Goebbels' diaries

The Estate of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels has won its lawsuit against Random House publishing company in the case  the 1709 Blog first flagged up in April

Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway College at the University of London, published a new biography of Goebbels in 2010, originally in German, quoting extensively from Goebbels' diaries. Cordula Schacht – a lawyer whose own father, Hjalmar Schacht, was Hitler’s minister of economics and who claims to represent Goebbel's heirs – brought an action in the Munich District Court against Random House and its imprint Siedler, despite the fact that under Germany law the term of copyright for literary works (life of author plus 70 years) meant Goebbel's work will enter the public domain on the 1st January 2016 (which the Munich court noted). No royalties were paid  by Random House to the Estate, which is thought to consist of the direct descendants of the propagandist's four siblings - as Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide in May 1945 after murdering their six children as Berlin fell to the Allies.

Newsweek tells us that Goebbels began writing a diary in 1923. He kept detailed accounts of his experiences and activities working with Hitler and the Nazi regime until April 1945, a month before his suicide. The diaries are one of the most significant sources of the internal workings of the Nazi political machine ever discovered. The diaries were published posthumously between 1993 and 2008 in 29 volumes spanning the period 1923-1945. The written diaries had been copied onto microfilm at Goebbels' request in 1945, and buried to avoid their destruction during the war. They were discovered in 1992 by German historian Elke Fröhlich in Moscow. The microfilm had been transported from their burial place in Potsdam in Germany to the Russian capital where they were discovered in the archival library following the collapse of communism. It took between 1993 and 2008 for the full collection of text to be published in German.

Joseph Goebbels (Wikimedia Commons)
Rainer Dresen, General Counsel for Random House Germany, told the Guardian back in April that an important principle was at stake. “We are convinced that no money should go to a war criminal,” he said. He has now told Newsweek that there should be a suspension of copyright laws on legal and moral grounds saying "We have more than a purely moral argument ..... the name of Goebbels appears on a list, written by the Allied Control Council [the authority which governed Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War], of war criminals whos
e estate was banned from financial transactions." Dresen said he made a private and public offer to Schacht for Random House pay the royalties, so long as the funds were donated to a Holocaust charity rather than going toward the Estate, but she refused.

Dresen also pointed to evidence from a journal entry from 1936 when Goebbels seemingly sold the rights to Nazi state publishers. He believes this means the copyright is owned by the Bavarian government. "Bavaria is not interested," he told Newsweek, "'Show me the author's contract' they said, knowing the archives were destroyed at the War's end." Apart from the moral argument, and the claim that the Estate does not own the diaries, there is also the issue of defences of fair use and similar, not just in Germany, but elsewhere the book has been published.

Dresen said the court was not interested in the moral question “for one second”. The court also did not believe there was an arguable exception to copyright which could apply. He described the verdict as 'elegant but without morality'. Random House intends to appeal the case at the German Supreme Court. If successful, other media organizations and publishers who have accessed and used the diaries may seek refunds. Asked whether he thought the forthcoming legal case could affect the biography’s UK publication, Dresen said: “From a legal standpoint, it could, because the questions are the same.” 

In September 2014 the the District Court in Munich ruled that Random House must disclose revenues from the book to enable calculation of fees that would be due: the publishing group lodged an appeal to the Higher Regional Court of Munich. and

No comments: