Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Who Gets The Royalties for Mein Kampf?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Mein Kampf is one of the most controversial books ever sold. Written in prison by Adolf Hitler following his failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, the two-volume autobiography/rambling screed outlines his anti-Semitic worldview and the political reasoning that would eventually fuel the Third Reich. Mein Kampf is still printed and it is readily available in American libraries and bookstores, which raises the question: Who gets the royalties? Hitler has no heirs, and the moral dubiousness of profiting from his vile manifesto has prompted scrutiny since its initial publication.

In 1933, textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin released the first English language version of Mein Kampf in America under the title My Battle. A petition was circulated calling for the New York City Board of Education to stop using Houghton Mifflin titles, to which the publisher's board responded by defending itself in a statement, saying, "The greatest service one can render humanity in general and Germany in particular is to place My Battle within the reach of all, that each, for himself, may see whether the book is worthy or is an exhibition of ignorance, stupidity, and dullness." However, the Mein Kampf controversy that reached U.S. courts was not about subject matter, but rather copyright infringement.

When Hitler copyrighted Mein Kampf in 1925, he had already renounced his Austrian citizenship and had registered himself as a ”stateless German.” Stackpole, a Pennsylvania publisher, picked up on this, and released a competing version of Mein Kampf in America without securing the rights. When a federal judge permitted this on the grounds that Mein Kampf was public domain, a third publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock, released their own version into the market as well. According to Cabinet Magazine, "Stackpole advertised that it paid no royalties to Hitler, to which Reynal & Hitchcock responded by promising all profits from the book to a refugee relief fund." Meanwhile, Houghton Mifflin appealed the initial ruling, and on June 9, 1939, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, giving them sole rights to publish Mein Kampf in America.

Hitler never saw any of the American royalties. By the time the legal dust had settled, World War II erupted and the U.S. enacted the Trading with the Enemy Act, which allowed the government to seize all profits from Mein Kampf. According to the New Statesmen, "During the Second World War, the U.S. government made more than $20,000 from royalties on Mein Kampf ... By 1979, the Justice Department had collected more than $139,000 in royalties." These profits were handed over to the War Claims Fund, and, "eventually, the monies were paid on a pro-rata basis to claimants, many of them American ex-POWs."

In 1979, Houghton Mifflin paid $37,254 to purchase Mein Kampf's publishing rights back from the U.S. government. Cabinet reports that "over the next two decades, with sales of approximately fifteen thousand copies per year, the best estimate is that Houghton Mifflin realized profits of somewhere between $300,000 and $700,000 on its 1979 investment of $37,254. With the publication in October 2000 of a U.S. News and World Report story detailing the history of its publication of Mein Kampf, however, Houghton Mifflin announced that it would donate all of its accrued Mein Kampf profits to charity."

A Houghton Mifflin representative tells us that they "donate all royalties and profits from the book to organizations that promote diversity and cross-cultural understanding. These have included The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation and Facing History and Ourselves."

Under German copyright law, a book automatically goes into the public domain at the start of the new year 70 years after the author's death. On January 1, 2016, Mein Kampf's copyright will be lifted. In Germany, the book's rights are owned by the state of Bavaria and they have forbidden its publication there. German ministers are currently prepping for the copyright's expiration, and are considering a new law to prevent its publication or, should that prove futile, a guarantee "that there is a scholarly edition which provides a scientific and critical analysis in order to demystify this horrible text."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
iStock
iStock

The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Legal Authority Does Judge Judy Have?
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While Judith Sheindlin was a real, live judge—New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed her to family court in 1982 and then made her Manhattan's supervising family court judge in 1986—she's not acting as one on her show. Neither are any of the other daytime TV judges (whether they passed the bar and served as actual judges or not).

TV court shows don't take place in real courtrooms and they don't feature real trials, though they are usually real cases—the producers often contact parties who have pending litigation in small claims court and offer them the opportunity to appear on TV instead. What you're seeing on these TV court shows is really just arbitration playing dress-up in small claims court's clothes.

Arbitration is a legal method for resolving disputes outside the court. The disputing parties present their cases to a neutral, third-party arbitrator or arbitrators who hear the case, examine the evidence, and make a (usually binding) decision. Like a court-based case, arbitration is adversarial, but generally less formal in its rules and procedures.

The power that Judge Judy and the rest of the TV arbitrators have over the disputing parties is granted by a contract, specific to their case, that they sign before appearing on the show. These contracts make the arbitrators' decision final and binding, prevent the disputing parties from negotiating the terms of the arbitration, and allow the "judges" wide discretion on procedural and evidentiary rules during the arbitration.

TV judges make their decision on the case and either decide for the plaintiff, in which case the show's producers award them a judgment fee, or with the defendant, in which case the producers award both parties with an appearance fee. This system seems to skew things in favor of the defendants and gives them an incentive to take their case from court to TV. If they have a weak case, appearing on the show absolves them of any financial liability; if they have a strong case, they stand to earn an appearance fee along with their victory.

If one party or the other doesn't like the arbitrator's decision, it can really only be successfully appealed if it addresses a matter outside the scope of the contract. In 2000, Judge Judy had one of her decisions overturned for that reason by the Family Court of Kings County. In the case B.M. v. D.L., the parties appeared in front of Sheindlin to solve a personal property dispute. Sheindlin ruled on that dispute, but also made a decision on the parties' child custody and visitation rights. One of the parties appealed in court, and the family court overturned the custody and visitation part of the decision because they weren't covered by the agreement to arbitrate.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios