The Downfall of Hitler Parodies: Videos Removed From YouTube in Copyright Action

By Smriti Rao | April 22, 2010 11:50 am

This week, YouTube began trying to obliterate one of the most popular internet memes of all time, the Downfall parodies featuring an enraged Adolf Hitler, after a copyright claim by the German production house that owns the movie’s rights.

The parody videos all use a clip from the 2004 German film Downfall about Hitler’s final days. In the clip, Hitler–played by actor Bruno Ganz–lashes out at his staff when he is told that he cannot win the war. As with any foreign film, the movie came with subtitles.

Over the years, fun-seekers have replaced the original English subtitles with absurd substitutes. So instead of ranting about the war, the subtitles express Hitler’s rage over Kanye West’s famous outburst, his toilet being clogged, or the collapse of the real estate market. The satirical videos have been hugely popular over the years, with some clips racking up hundreds of thousands of views. But the clips apparently didn’t just generate a lot of laughs, they also irritated the company that owns the rights to the film, prompting the company to ask YouTube to take them off the site.

The company, Constantin Films, also noted that they had received complaints from Jewish groups about the distasteful nature of the spoofs. Indeed, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Associated Press that the  league was “delighted” at this piece of news.

“We find them offensive,” said Foxman of the videos. “We feel that they trivialize not only the Holocaust but World War II. Hitler is not a cartoon character.”

Some have argued that since the videos are parodies, they are protected under “fair use,” the legal doctrine that holds that the use of copyright-protected works for purposes such as parody and education may be considered “fair,” writes the Associated Press. However, YouTube’s content policy also specifies that if a copyright holder asks, they will remove the material from the site.

The site is also blocking people from uploading new Downfall parodies. TechCrunch reports that when someone tried to upload a new Hitler spoof on the missing iPhone 4G, they got the following message:

This video contains content from Constantin Film, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.

Meanwhile, even as YouTube sweeps its site for the parodies, there are so many of them out there, that you can still watch a few of them easily.

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  • Jason

    It’s silly since very few had ever heard of this movie until the parodies started. It is almost guaranteed that these parodies brought the movie and the actor more fame than they would have acquired otherwise.

    Also, the Anti Defamation League needs to relax. Long before Hitler people were trying to kill the Jews. Mel Brooks did a nice parody of the Inquisition including the ‘torture’ of Jews. There are more serious cases of threats against Jewish people than adding humorous subtitles to a clip.

  • Katharine

    Honestly, I feel Hitler is best remembered by being mocked roundly. He doesn’t deserve any measure of solemnity. It gives him too much power.

  • Ray

    “We find them offensive,” said Foxman of the videos. “We feel that they trivialize not only the Holocaust but World War II. Hitler is not a cartoon character.”

    Oh please. What better way to marginalize evil than by making fun of it?

  • Woody Tanaka

    “Some have argued that since the videos are parodies, they are protected under ‘fair use,’ the legal doctrine that holds that the use of copyright-protected works for purposes such as parody and education may be considered ‘fair,’ writes the Associated Press. However, YouTube’s content policy also specifies that if a copyright holder asks, they will remove the material from the site.”

    The problem with this is that, if the clip is not infringing, by virtue of fair use, then the production company is not the copyright holder of the parody clip, the person who made it is. Thus, if fair use exists, then the production company could conceivably be guilty of copyright infringment by making the claim…

  • Evan Harper

    Hitler may not be a cartoon character, but Abe Foxman certainly is.

  • kate-oz

    Im not well read or that smart, im just an average Jane… but i feel the parodies are incredibly powerful,brilliant.
    Especially the ” Hitler rings the angry german boy” -the boys screams at him “your an idiot your stupid,” etc .
    Imagine how angry neo-nazis are at seeing there revered leader lampooned & made look weak & stupid.
    The conventional Hitler legacy seems to me to give Hilter too much power/awe still.

    Belittling Hilter is the best way to deflate the”evil genius” mystique that some try to uphold even today.
    ( In my view, of course the concentration camps are sacred -off limits to comedy/parody) Respectfully kate.

    • Jack

      Making fun of Hitler is making fun of the Holocaust. You can’t have it both ways.

      • http://www.facebook.com/richard.ellicott Richard Ellicott

        er no it’s not..Hitler is not the same thing as the holocaust are you mentally challenged?

        do you think the song “hitler has only got one ball” is about the holocaust?

        is Shindler’s list a film detailing the life of Hitler?

        think before you troll

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