Copyfraud: Anne Frank’s Diary Gains ‘Co-Author’, Longer Copyright Term

3435010249_b0f5339bda_bThe NYTimes reports that the Anne Frank Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit that holds Anne Frank's copyrights, is now telling publishers that the eponymous diary was not the sole work of Anne Frank.

But now the Swiss foundation that holds the copyright to “The Diary of Anne Frank” is alerting publishers that her father is not only the editor but also legally the co-author of the celebrated book.

The move has a practical effect: It extends the copyright from Jan. 1, when it is set to expire in most of Europe, to the end of 2050. Copyrights in Europe generally end 70 years after an author’s death. Anne Frank died 70 years ago at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp, and Otto Frank died in 1980. Extending the copyright would block others from being able to publish the book without paying royalties or receiving permission.

In the United States, the diary’s copyright will still end in 2047, 95 years after the first publication of the book in 1952.

That last sentence is not quite true; the English translation of The Diary of Anne Frank has a copyright term that expires in 2047 (I checked), but the original Dutch work was published in 1947. Its US copyright registration was renewed and will expire in 2042.

Edit: And do you know what else? A reader has pointed out that the copyright has already expired in countries which have a copyright term of death plus fifty years. This includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, and a whole swath of Africa. So that means the foundation is trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

But that is a side issue.

The real problem today is that, after six decades of claiming that the diary contains the thoughts of a teen-aged girl, the foundation is now saying that one of the book's editors was in fact the co-author. with all the rights that entails.

While I have long thought that the idea of the "author as sole creator" was a myth, and that editors should get credit for their contributions, when it comes to the legal issue I have to agree with Cory Doctorow's take. He's pointed out that if this stands it will create a thorny legal mess:

The question of giving copyright protection to editors undermines the rights of authors. If my editors are co-proprietors of all my works, then they get the right to trump how I may use those words. My ability to resell my books after they go out of print would be contingent upon approval of my editor, who works for a competing house. No creator should support this view -- it represents eternal corporate bondage for all authors.

This legal idea has yet to be tried in the courts, but it has the potential to set a precedent that would throw all book copyrights in Europe into doubt.

It's not just that authors would be stymied when they tried to get their works republished, but also that we'd no longer be able to tell when a work entered the public domain. There's no public record which could tell us the names of a book's editors and other secondary contributors, and in many cases no records exist which identify the editor of a book (who keeps decades-old paperwork like that?).

In short, the foundation's rights grab could to lead to a massive new orphan works problem.

Fortunately, the foundation is already facing fierce opposition:

While the foundation, the Anne Frank Fonds, in Basel, signaled its intentions a year ago, warnings about the change have provoked a furor as the deadline approaches. Some people opposed to the move have declared that they would defy the foundation and publish portions of her text.

Foundation officials “should think very carefully about the consequences,” said Agnès Tricoire, a lawyer in Paris who specializes in intellectual property rights in France, where critics have been the most vociferous and are organizing a challenge. “If you follow their arguments, it means that they have lied for years about the fact that it was only written by Anne Frank.”

The decision has also set the foundation on a possible collision course with the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, a separate entity that for years has sparred with the Anne Frank foundation over legal questions, such as ownership of archives and trademark issues.

The museum has been working for five years with historians and researchers on an elaborate web version of the diary intended for publication once the copyright expires. The research is still progressing with a historical and textual analysis of her writing, including deletions, corrections and stains.

“We haven’t decided yet when or how the results will be published,” said Maatje Mostart, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank House. “Any publishing will always be done within the legal frameworks.” She added pointedly that neither “Otto Frank nor any other person is co-author.”

What's most noteworthy about the Anne Frank House museum deciding to pursue this project is that the foundation insists that only it can be entrusted to protect Anne's legacy. The foundation’s Yves Kugelmann told the NYTimes that its aim is to “make sure that Anne Frank stays Anne". He added: “When she died, she was a young girl who was not even 16. We are protecting her. That is our task.”

Hogwash.

This is a money grab, pure and simple.

image by heatheronhertravels

About Nate Hoffelder (11594 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on Copyfraud: Anne Frank’s Diary Gains ‘Co-Author’, Longer Copyright Term

  1. They should have made this argument twenty years ago, when many counties still had copyright terms of life + 50 years.

    I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that works by Anne Frank are in the public domain here in Canada, a life + 50 country (at least until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is implemented), and have been since 1996.

    If they didn’t make their claim 20 years ago, are they estopped from doing so now?

    • Good point, and you’re absolutely right. The original diary is out of copyright in Canada, yes. The same goes for Australia and every other country which had a “death plus 50” term in 1996.

  2. They didn’t make that claim 20 years ago, because maintaining Anne Frank as sole author increased the monetary value of the material. Now they have chosen to water down that value by introducing her father as author in order to make the choice of having less value than none at all.

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