The diary of Anne Frank has become the subject of a bitter copyright feud between those who think the Holocaust memoir should be in the public domain and the foundation entrusted with preserving its legacy.
It’s been more than 70 years since Anne Frank died at the hands of the Nazis in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which means that under most copyright laws in the European Union, any works she authored should be in the public domain.
But according to the Anne Frank Fonds, an organization founded by her father Otto Frank to oversee her literary legacy, Anne Frank isn’t the sole author of her own diary.
The Fonds argues that Otto Frank, who had a heavy hand in editing his daughter’s Diary of a Young Girl, was in effect co-author of the 1947 memoir. The diary documents the teenaged Anne’s life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and her family’s experience hiding in an attic.
“Otto Frank had much more creative input than a regular editor has,” the Fonds’ lawyer, Kamiel Koelman, explained in a cease-and-desist letter to one of the online publishers of Frank’s diary.
That means that the work falls under an obscure Dutch law that protects posthumous works for 50 years after first publication. Since the complete manuscripts of Anne Frank weren’t published until 1986, the material won’t fall under public domain until 2037, a Dutch court ruled in December.
“To clarify the situation, the Anne Frank Fonds would like to put on record that the different versions of the diary of Anne Frank will remain protected for many years after 2015. This means that they cannot be used without the Anne Frank Fonds’ permission,” says the organization’s website.
Neither staff at the Fonds or Koelman could be reached for comment.
On Jan. 1, a French academic and French politician separately posted electronic copies of her famous diary.
“It belongs to everyone. And it is up to each of us to weigh its importance,” wrote University of Nantes lecturer Olivier Ertzscheid in a blog post.
“I hold the conviction that there is no other battle to fight than its release, no other tribute to give than to share it without limit, and no other way to accord this right than to release it today into the public domain.”
French parliament member Isabelle Attard also published the work in the name of fighting against the “privatization of knowledge.”
In a cruel twist of timing, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf entered the public domain in Europe on Jan. 1. In Canada, posthumously published works are generally protected by copyright for 50 years after the original date of publication.
Ertzscheid said he has received a letter from Koelman demanding that he remove the electronic copies of her diary from the web.
“Ironically, the Frank family has experienced before what it is like if the others call upon the mob to violate their rights, like you do now on your website where the Franks’ legal successor’s intellectual property rights are concerned,” Koelman wrote in a letter published on Ertzscheid’s website.
The letter demands that in addition to removing the diary, Ertzscheid must write a blog post explaining how he was misinformed about the copyright laws, compensate Anne Frank Fonds for damages and legal fees, and pay €1,000 ($1,582 Canadian) for each day and each instance that he does not comply with the law.
It’s a practical move, as proceeds from the famous book partly fund the organization’s charitable activities.
“As instructed by Otto Frank, the Anne Frank Fonds uses the proceeds of the copyrights exclusively for charity, good causes and educational projects all over the world,” the Fonds’ website says. The Fonds does make the book available for use, and sometimes waives fees associated with its licence, the site says.
In an email to the Toronto Star, Ertzscheid said he is looking into getting legal representation of his own and has no intention of taking down the diary.
“I thing the ‘problem’ is very simple: there is NO problem. A young girl wrote a diary. She died in 1945. 70 years after his [sic] death, her works is legally entering the public domain,” he said.
Attard told the Star she has not heard from the Fonds or its representatives.