Film company explains Hitler meme takedown

Constantin Film received complaints over 'Downfall' parodies

COLOGNE, Germany -- Constantin Film, the production company behind the Adolf Hitler film "Downfall" that spawned hundreds of Internet parodies, defended its decision to have YouTube remove the clips in part as a response to complaints from those satirized in them.

The company's Munich office was bombarded with calls and emails after YouTube began pulling down the "Downfall" spoofs -- part of a meme, in Internet parlance -- on orders from Constantin.

The parodies use the same premise: snatch the film's climatic scene, in which Bruno Ganz as Hitler is told he cannot win the war, and add new subtitles to make the Fuhrer rail against anything from the iPad to the new Hannah Montana album.

"Sometimes we have been asked to take certain ones down -- by companies whose products have been ridiculed or from Jewish associations who were offended by certain neo-Nazi parodies using 'Downfall' footage," Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin's head of film production, told THR. "But we don't want to be the judge of what's good or bad taste. We just see this as a simple case of unauthorized use of our copyright-protected material."

Last month, a Jewish council leader in the U.K. named Coun Rod Bluh was satirized as Hitler in one of the videos, provoking an outcry in light of the fact that he is a Holocaust survivor.

Moszkowicz said Constantin has been filing cease-and-desist orders against individual "Downfall" videos since the first Hitler spoofs appeared several years ago. That, however, had little effect, since Hitler parodies spawned faster than Constantin could find and stop them.

But YouTube fingerprinting protocol Content ID -- which combs the web for specific video data -- has made the process automatic. Old "Downfall" parodies are being scooped up and pulled down, and new ones blocked almost immediately. There are still plenty of Hitler spoofs on the web outside YouTube, but they are getting harder to find.

The Hitler parodies could be seen as free publicity for "Downfall." More people -- especially outside of Germany -- have seen the spoofs than the original film.

Moszkowicz disagrees.

"We haven't seen any impact -- positive or negative -- on DVD sales for 'Downfall,' " he said. "It is a very successful film, and it remains so. And I don't know of any study that has shown that a popular movie meme has had a positive effect on sales. ... It has been very good business for Google and YouTube, but we haven't seen any change."

Constantin spokeswoman Valeria Kurz, who has been fielding calls and mails for the past two days on the Hitler meme, told THR the response has been mixed.

"Some users are angry that we are blocking the clips, but many understand our position and have given us positive feedback," Kurz said. "Especially those who have seen the original film."

Dirk Schurhoff of Beta Cinema, which handles world sales on "Downfall," told THR he supported Constantin it its Internet takedown.

"Enough is enough, really. It's a matter of principle," Schurhoff said. "It's Constantin's film, and they have a right to say how the images get used."