The Free State of Bavaria has blocked publication of Hitler's infamous manifesto for the past 70 years, because they own the book's copyright. But that copyright is due to expire at the end of this year.
Earlier this week, Germany's Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) announced details of its plan to publish the first local German edition of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf since World War II. Scheduled for release in January 2016, the IfZ sees its project as a scholarly work, picking apart and pointing out the flaws within the ideological basis of Nazism. It will add over 1,250 pages of academic critique (and 4,000 annotations) to Hitler's original 748-page text, which first appeared in 1925 in the aftermath of the then-prisoner's failed 1923 Munich Beer Putsch uprising.
The government of the Free State of Bavaria, which holds the book's copyright, has blocked publication of the notorious tome in Germany for the past 70 years, but they never actually instated a law banning it. The German Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that the possession and sale of the millions of copies printed before the war was perfectly legal (although Bavaria still gets to restrict access to copies in public reference collections). Instead, they have restricted new editions locally and tried to block copies internationally and online using their ownership of the book's copyright, which was seized along with many other Hitler assets in 1945. But as of December 31, 2015, the state's copyright will expire.
Still, the expiration doesn't mean that new editions will sail into the public sphere unopposed. State officials and citizens alike have for years been examining ways to either create a new legislative ban or to block the book's publication under national anti-Nazi and anti-defamation laws upon the expiration of the old de faction injunction. Even bodies that once supported controlled, scholastic editions like the IfZ's have now jumped on the opposition bandwagon, which makes it likely that sometime in the next couple of years we're going to see a legal or legislative spat over whether or when Mein Kampf can be banned outright in Germany.
The IfZ edition may be at the center of this rancor, as the first known proposed printing of the text and already the subject of some prior political intrigue. The edition was first proposed in 2009 as a collaboration between the IfZ and the government of Bavaria. It was intended as a means of pre-empting neo-Nazi editions of the book and widely disseminating a copy of the text that could be used as a Nazi-critical teaching tool to guide readers exposed to existing or new editions of the text. As of 2012, the government of Bavaria had allocated €500,000 (then $650,000) for the edition's production and promised to help publish the demystifying work.
But after a meeting with Holocaust survivors and representatives from Israel in 2013, the state decided against the project. They did, however, allow the IfZ to keep the allocated grant money. Then officials turned around and vowed to file legal complaints against anyone publishing Mein Kampf in Germany after their copyright expires. The IfZ decided to use the grant and their core budget to self-publish the text regardless.
As the copyright's lapse grew closer, politicians started thinking about a legislative ban.
"[The publication of a new German edition of Mein Kampf] has to be prevented with every legal means available," Social Democratic Party parliamentarian Burkhard Lischka told DW in 2012. "I think that sorry book has a permanent place in history's dustbin."
In the early summer of 2014, justice ministers from every German state convened a conference to discuss whether or not to issue a total ban on the book. Most conceded that digital and foreign copies made any ban futile. But they still resolved to continue seeking some kind of post-copyright restriction on Mein Kampf, especially on unannotated replications of the original.
Some believe there'll be grounds to ban the text—which contains loads of discriminatory and paranoid anti-Semitic statements—under Paragraph 130 of the German Legal Code, which restricts the publication of any works deemed defamatory or dangerous by the nation's courts.
"The original text has a clearly discriminative character with regard to the relevant laws," Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Hermann told DW in 2014.
It's also possible that laws banning Nazi symbols or statements (like the heil salute, holocaust denials, or swastika) in Germany could come into play, given that many, including IfZ project head Christian Hartmann, see Mein Kampf as an archetypal Nazi emblem. But these laws are finicky. For instance, filmmakers are allowed to use swastikas in their work if they're meant to advance art, but the symbols are banned in video games.
Tim Hoesmann, a German lawyer, explained to DW that the IfZ's critical edition may slide past these laws as a work of valuable historical research, heavier on critique than on the original text.
"Versions of Hitler's Mein Kampf that include commentary will surely be judged differently than a printed version with no commentary," he said.
For their part, Bavarian officials have indicated that they won't press a legal claim against the IfZ's edition because they do indeed see it as a valid work of historical research. But this isn't to say that some other state body or civilian group won't put the book up for legal review, or that the courts won't make allowances for the IfZ version, then ban reprints of the original text.
It seems likely that some level of qualified ban will come in place under existing or new laws, given how primed and fearful Germany is of resurgent interest in Hitler and anti-Semitism now.
The nation's been a bit spooked by how well uncritical copies of Mein Kampf are selling online and around the world, as well as the recent use of Nazi imagery in Germany's anti-Islamic, nationalist Pegida movement and the clear rise of anti-Semitism in the nation over the past couple of years. This has created a charged situation that politicians and justices will be eager to keep as uncontaminated by Mein Kampf as possible.
One way or another, the IfZ edition will likely make it onto shelves, given the sheltering effect of its predominately critical, academic content. It's just unclear if they'll have to make it through a court case first. And whether or not they do, any non-academic edition will likely face further scrutiny, if not a new, non-copyright-contingent ban. In short, a Mein Kampf-based shitstorm is brewing in about a year's time—it's just a matter of when and how exactly it will touch off.
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