If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve read Anne Frank’s diary at some point in your life. The book is typically found on the required reading list in middle and high schools, as well as being sold in bookstores everywhere. Frank’s diary tells of her time in hiding during the Holocaust; she and her family spent two years hiding from the Nazis in an attic in Amsterdam until they were eventually caught and sent to concentration camps. What brings the story back into the spotlight now is its copyright. Depending on whom you ask, the book may finally be entering the public domain in Europe.
Copyright law in Europe dictates that a copyright expires after the life of the author plus 70 years. In the United States, the copyright is still valid until 2047, as the US affords protection for 95 years after the book’s publication, which was in 1952. Anne Frank died while held at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Thus, her diary entered the public domain at the end of 2015. The Anne Frank Fund, however, recently announced that they would be adding Anne’s father, Otto Frank, as a co-author of the story. According to law, that would delay the copyright’s expiration until 70 years from his death in 1980. While it is undisputed that Otto Frank did much for his daughter’s legacy, people are having a difficult time accepting him as a co-author. Some even some claim that adding Otto would mean the Fund had been lying about the authorship for years, as the diary is itself states that it is all Anne’s own words.
This debate calls to mind the more general argument in the background of copyright law. Some believe that having a longer copyright is more beneficial for the author, as it affords more protection for their hard work, and more of an incentive to create. Others, however, believe that the public domain is where the value lies, as it allows other artists to use the works and transform them into new works. There is a constant cycle of old ideas being re-expressed in new ways and the creative process is enriched. French politician Isabelle Attard best summed up the argument for the public domain: “The best protection of the work is to bring it in the public domain, because its audience will grow even more.”
As of now, two editions of the novel have been posted online, despite the Fund’s attempt at extending the copyright. Additionally, an Amsterdam court found that the original text of the diary could be copied for academic research. It will be interesting to see what happens to Anne’s diary, and what it will mean for the future of the public domain.