Hitler Reacts to Idiot Copyright Pursuits

The incredibly prolific Internet meme in which Adolph Hitler goes hysterical over happenings in American pop culture is under siege, thanks to an idiotic copyright enforcement decision.

PopEater:

‘Hitler Reacts to…’ — that patron saint of YouTube memes — seems to be on its way out. The clips, which dub a scene from the 2004 German-language film ‘Downfall,’ are being rapidly pulled by Constantin Films, which is claiming copyright infringement.

The film features Hitler (portrayed by Bruno Ganz), ensconced in his bunker, learning he cannot win the war. The viral video versions tweak the subtitles to have Hitler reacting explosively to current events, both mundane and massive, including Michael Jackson’s death, Kanye West’s VMAs incident and the Hollywood adaptation of ‘Twilight.’ All have been major YouTube hits.

[…]

“Earlier today, someone attempted to upload a new version surrounding the massive iPhone 4G news. Unfortunately, as you can see on YouTube, that video has already been removed,” TechCrunch reported yesterday. The New York Times covered the phenomenon in 2008, estimating more than 100 instances of the Hitler meme.

“We as a corporation have a bit of an ambivalent view of it,” Martin Moszkowicz, an executive at Constantin Film, told the BBC. “On the one hand, we are proud the picture has such a huge fan base and that people are using it for parody. On the other hand, we are trying to protect the artists.”

Not only is this incredibly short-sighted but it surely misapplies copyright law.  There’s a longstanding fair use exception for parody.  And taking four minutes out of a longish movie and totally changing its context with original writing has to be considered transformative.

My strong guess is that Hitler will not react well to this move.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that German copyright law may be different. That’s a good point. Presumably, Google (which owns YouTube) is under pressure to enforce non-American intellectual property law.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I am rusty on copyright, and IANAL, but I believe German copyright places higher weight on the author’s artistic intentions (and the US more on potential revenues). Pulled for German copyright?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I hadn’t really considered German copyright but it’s an interesting point.

  3. Even in US copyright law, there is a distinction between parody (which is protected under fair use) and satire (which is not). As the Hitler Meme videos aren’t really commenting on Downfall itself, they fall into the latter category. Now, if you had one entitled something like “Hitler Reacts to Overracting on German TV” or something like that, then it would be protected as parody.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Even in US copyright law, there is a distinction between parody (which is protected under fair use) and satire (which is not). As the Hitler Meme videos aren’t really commenting on Downfall itself, they fall into the latter category.

    Yeah, that’s a weird and controversial distinction. Weird Al Yankovic seems to get by with the “parody” defense even though he’s usually doing social commentary rather than making fun of the song per se.

  5. Weird Al pays to license all the songs he covers anyways, so it’s moot point in his case.

    Also, some of his songs (e.g. “Smells Like Nirvana”, “Achey Breaky Song”, “This Song is Just Six Words Long”) are actually commentary on the original.

  6. dj spellchecka says:

    here’s the ultimate meta video…Hitler rants about the Downfall Parodies being blocked

    href=”http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fAQKa8rU_4″>