Anne Frank Diaries dispute: Copyright Issues

Posted on: January 22, 2016 by

It was reported earlier this week that an on-line text of Anne Frank’s famous diaries, rather controversially posted by a French academic and a French MP on 1st January this year, has already apparently been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Anne Frank School Photo, Amsterdam, 1940

Anne Frank School Photo, Amsterdam, 1940

You may have been following the somewhat acrimonious saga. The academic and MP who posted the text argue that since Anne Frank died in March 1945, copyright in the diaries has expired according to European rules whereby copyright expires 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. This is fiercely contested, however, by the Anne Frank Fonds (AFF), the charitable trust founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, to “promote charitable works and to play a social and cultural role in the spirit of Anne Frank” (according to its website). All the copyrights owned by Anne and Otto (who died in 1980) are now apparently vested in the AFF, which works hard to protect them against unauthorised use.

The AFF asserts that “the different versions of the diary of Anne Frank will remain protected for many years after 2015”, since the published versions of the diaries (one by Otto Frank in the 1940s and one by author Mirjam Pressler in 1991) were amended versions, attracting their own copyrights. Whilst taking care to point out that Anne was the only author of her original diaries, the AFF website FAQs describe how Otto and Mirjam “in effect created readable books from Anne Frank’s original writings”. Given that Otto’s death was not until 1980 (and Mirjam is still alive), the ‘life+70 years’ rule would indeed mean that the AFF’s control over use of the diaries would remain intact for decades to come. For now, the debate continues….

Aside from the particular point in question, though, the controversy raises a number of interesting and complex copyright issues: The extent to which amendments to existing copyright works can create ‘new’ copyrights in subsequent works; the harmonisation across Europe of rules as to duration and other copyright questions; ownership of copyright; moral rights….the list could go on. These are all

key areas of copyright law which we’ll be exploring next month in the first of the seminars for the IAL Diploma Course in Art Profession Law and Ethics. See our website for further details:IAL Diploma in Art Professional Law and Ethics