By Binh Vong
One of the most widely-read books of the 20th century, Anne Frank’s diary gives us a glimpse of World War II through the details of the years when the Frank family hid from the Nazis in the attic of a factory in Amsterdam. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, compiled the diary and gave the copyright of the book to Anne Frank Fonds (“the Foundation”), a Swiss foundation. Because Anne Frank died in 1945, under the copyright law of the European Union, the copyright to the book in Europe was originally set to end this upcoming January 1st, 70 years after her death.
In a move to extend the copyright of the book, the Foundation recently announced that Otto Frank co-authored the book, which would extend the copyright of the book to 70 years after Otto Frank’s death in 1980. This gives the Foundation exclusive rights over the book until 2050 in Europe. The copyright to Anne Frank’s diary in the United States does not end until 2047, 95 years after the book was first published in the United States in 1952.
The Foundation argues that Otto Frank co-authored the diary because he edited, merged and trimmed entries in her dairy to create what is essentially a collage. This is an interesting twist because when Otto Frank first published entries from his daughter’s diary, he assured readers that the words were mostly written by Anne. Now, Otto Frank has posthumously become an author of the book.
The foundation states that announcing Otto Frank as co-author months before the previous termination date for the copyrights of the book gives adequate time to prevent copyright infringement from those planning to use the book as public domain material. This announcement has received critiques, and some state that they still intend to use material from Anne Frank’s book.
Professor Olivier Ertzscheid, a professor of information sciences at the University of Nantes in France, criticized the Foundation’s decision to keep the book from public domain and has already distributed digital versions of the diary online as a form of protest. Should a suit be brought to court, it will be telling to see how European courts decide on this matter.
Copyright law has long been a topic of debate for legal and non-legal scholars. On one hand, supporters of extending the length of the copyright period argue that it is necessary to promote creative work and protect an author’s work. The Swiss foundation, for example, argues that the copyright is crucial to protect Anne’s work from commercial exploitation.
The opposite camp argues that the diary’s copyright keeps the public from enjoying creative works and cite Disney as an example. In 1998, the United States, after extensive lobbying from Disney, passed the Copyright Term Extension Act which extended copyright to 70 years after the death of an author and the works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication. This extended Disney’s copyrights over Mickey Mouse to 2024.
While copyright law is arguably necessary to incentivize the creation of artistic works by granting the author protection of his or her work, the jury is still out on how long a copyright should continue after the original publication.
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