Anne Frank’s Diary and Copyright Law

“Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year old school-girl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.”

                                                                                                         – Anne Frank

Anne’s diary is undoubtedly one of the most important autobiographies in our world’s history. It has been translated into over 67 languages and sold over 30 million copies. Anne’s dreams of being a writer have certainly come to pass, although in a far more tragic way than she ever envisioned. As one of the most important and widely read memoirs of the Holocaust, Anne’s story is a constant reminder of the important role history plays in society. It is an ever-present reminder of mistakes humanity cannot afford to repeat. 

Even a book as important and central to history as Anne’s is subject to intellectual property laws and protections. The provision of copyright encourages and rewards creators for their works by recognising the work belongs to the creator. However, copyright law is not unlimited in scope. The law limits how long copyright exists. This recognises the public’s interest in accessing the work without limitations and prevents the creator from having an indefinite monopoly over their creation.

In Europe, copyright ends 70 years after the death of the creator. After this time has elapsed the work enters the public domain. The work can then be freely accessed, used and adapted by the general public. This is why Pride and Prejudice can be downloaded for free and questionable re-adaptations like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can be written without infringing copyright protections.

Anne Frank sadly passed away 70 years ago. By simple operation of European copyright law it would appear Anne Frank’s diary (in its original Dutch) should now enter the public domain. But it is not that simple, because nothing in intellectual property law ever is.

Following the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death University of Nantes lecturer Olivier Ertzscheid and French MP Isabelle Attard put Anne’s diary online so it could be accessed freely. The Anne Frank Foundation (established by Anne’s father, Otto and the owners of the copyright) claimed this infringed the Diary’s copyright. The Foundation argued while Anne was the sole author of the book, it was edited by her father. Based on the publication date of his edition, the Foundation claimed the copyright will cease 70 years after Otto’s death, not Anne’s. Otto died in 1980 so the book would enter the public domain in 2050.

It may seem insensitive or simply irrelevant to discuss how long Anne’s diary is subject to copyright law. On closer analysis, however, the discussion goes to the very heart of the diary’s message. Anne’s diary contains more than her dream of becoming a writer. It contains her thoughts on the world, her faith and vision for peace. Ultimately, being a testament to the strength of the human spirit even in the darkest of times. The oppressive regime Anne suffered under, might have taken away her life, but it could not and did not take away her hope and belief in a better future.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Anne’s simple and pure messages are always relevant. In our current time of increasing xenophobia and terrifying political situations around the globe, an account of the oppressed should not be subjected to unnecessary limits.

The experience of reading Anne’s diary is not always thrilling. When I read the diary when I was 12 I was surprised to find Anne so ‘normal’. Anne wrote about cutting out magazine clippings for her walls, complained about her mother and mused over her confused feelings for a young boy who was also hiding with them. Reading these accounts I nearly forgot about the oppressive, fascist regime Anne was hiding from until she complained about not being able to go outside, always keeping quiet and the constant struggle to have enough food. Upon re-reading these parts as an adult I no longer found them boring. Instead I found them incredibly moving as they demonstrate Anne could still have normal experiences in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Anne’s diary showed that the Nazis never succeeded in dictating or moulding her. Anne’s strength in her opinions and her willingness to stand by them despite what they were costing her is an important lesson for everyone to learn.

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.”

Anne’s diary showed that while it was her ethnicity and faith that saw her persecuted, she did not reject or hate her faith. A theme that remains relevant today.

“Those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery”

It is for these very reasons that Anne’s diary is an important read, regardless of the age, religion, gender, or political views of the reader.  Otto Frank said:

“Anne’s diary was a great help for me in regaining a positive outlook on the world. With its publication, I hoped to help many people, and that proved to be the case.”

Anne’s diary has helped millions of readers around the world, not just her father. It can continue to do so as we face the world’s worst refugee crisis, oppressive regimes in other corners of the world and misunderstandings of other people’s faiths and cultures. Anne’s diary is evidence of the devastating consequences that await us when these circumstances remain unchallenged.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

Regardless of whether Anne’s diary should be in the public domain now, or in another 30 or so years, her message has spread so far and will continue to spread.

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”

 

Extras for experts

Read

A Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank on History.net

Anne Frank’s diary caught in fierce European copyright battle, The Guardian.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Joint authorship and copyright, The New Zealand Herald, 15 February 2016.

 

Places to visit:

Anne Frank Museum Amsterdam

Bergen-Belsen Memorial (the concentration camp where Anne and her sister, Margot, died).

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Any Holocaust Museum around the world.

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