Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iran and Copyright

The December 31, 2007 Tehran Times (I read a lot of newspapers) has an article (here) about the acquisition by a British film company of worldwide rights to the Iranian movie "Banana Rind." The film is to premier in February at the 26th Fajr Film Festival in Tehran and will then go into global distribution. It would be interesting to see what the agreement says about U.S. rights since the U.S. does not have copyright relations with Iran, a fact predating Iran's designation as one of the axes of evil, and the current Holocaust-denying regime.

Lacking copyright relations means that works of Iranian origin aren't protected here if published, and transferring rights to a company from a country we do have copyright relations with doesn't matter. Unpublished works (including those that are only exhibited), however, have always been protected without regard to national eligibility, and indeed we have long protected works from authors who do not have citizenship in any country. The most famous instance of this is seen in a work by a man of the greatest evil. In Houghton Mifflin Co. v. Stackpole Sons, 104 F.2d 306, 309-310 (2d Cir. 1939), the Second Circuit extended protection to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf even though Hitler was a stateless person, or more properly a “Staatenloser Deutscher”: born a citizen of Austria, he served in the German army and refused service in the Austrian army. The court of appeals' rationale for its decision presumably was not based on a desire to protect Hitler, but rather authors who were to suffer from mass atrocities Hitler was shortly to commit:

Any other result than this would be unfortunate, for it would mean that stateless aliens cannot be secure in even their literary property. Ture, the problem of statelessness has only become acute of late years, but it promises to become increasingly more difficult as time goes on. The rule contended for by the defendants would mean that the United States, contrary to its general policy and tradition, is putting another obstacle in the way of survival of homeless refugees, of whom many have been students and scholars and writers."


Anonymous said...

Did the Second Circuit really get Hitler's citizenship status wrong? There was a time in the 1920s when he wasn't a German citizen and could have easily been expelled, perhaps putting an end to a Nazi party that depended on his speaking skills. But when the Nazi party began winning elections, they gave him a post that carried with it citizenship. By 1933 he was most certainly a German citizen. He couldn't have become German Chancellor if he wasn't.

Perhaps the court in 1939 was referring to the situation at the time Mein Kampf was published in the mid-1920s.

For what it's worth, my Houghton Mifflin edition, purchased back in the 1980s, contains a string of copyrights:

Renewed 1971 by HM
1945 by HM
1925 by Verlag Frz Eher Nachf, GMBH
1927 by Verlag Frz Eher Nachf, GMBH

The last two were, I suspect, the book's publisher.

--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II (out in January)

William Patry said...

Hi Michael,no as you might have suspected from the 1925 to 1927 edition dates, that is the period in question. Here is the relevant discussion from the court on that issue:

"The defendants do not dispute the fact that at the time of the hearing below they were about to publish and sell their edition of ‘Mein Kampf‘; indeed, they admit this in their answer. They justify their conduct on two grounds: first, that the American copyrights issued in this case were invalid, because the author, Adolf Hitler, was ‘stateless‘ at the times they were issued, and second, that the plaintiff never acquired title to the copyrights. We shall discuss these claims in order.

First. A certificate of copyright registration of Volume I of ‘Mein Kampf‘ was issued by the United States Copyright Office in 1925 to Franz Eher Nachfolger G.m.b.H., of Munich, Germany, claimant of the copyright and publisher of the German edition of the book. In the application for the copyright, dated February 15, 1925, this publisher, in answer to the question on the application which read, ‘Country of which the author or translator is a citizen or subject,‘ replied, ‘Staatenloser Deutscher.‘ A certificate of copyright registration of Volume 2 of ‘Mein Kampf‘ was issued early in 1927 to the same concern. In its application dated December 24, 1926, the publisher answered this same question as to the author's country with the word ‘Osterreich.‘ Defendants by extensive affidavits have produced evidence from German newspapers and other publications to the effect that on both occasions Adolf Hitler was a stateless person, a citizen or subject of no country, since, being born a citizen of Austria, he had served in the German army in the World War and had refused to respond to a call for service in the Austrian army. Plaintiff asserts its intent to offer proof at the trial that Hitler did not lose his Austrian citizenship, but, admitting for this motion that the author was stateless, nevertheless argues that the copyrights are valid on the ground that a stateless person is entitled to the benefits of the American copyright laws."

Anonymous said...


I'd rather see the US withdraw from copyright treaties, unilaterally offer national treatment to everyone (since, after all, the nationality of an author doesn't matter when we're merely trying to promote progress), but to require registration, deposit, etc., using a term based on first publication anywhere in the world, for a very broad definition of publication (e.g. public performance or display).

As for unpublished works, there's never been that much of a good reason to protect them. None really, if the author isn't actively planning on publishing them.