As already reported in TeleRead, the original text of the diary of Anne Frank is the subject of a legal tussle this year over public domain rights. With the diary text formally in the public domain since January 1st this year, under the European Union’s 70-year copyright rule, a French academic and a French parliamentarian separately published the original Dutch text online. The Association des Bibliothécaires de France (ABF, Association of French Librarians) has now issued a statement supporting them, against public and legal challenges from the Anne Frank Foundation, which insists that abridgments and other editorial changes made by Anne Frank’s father after her death require a completely new copyright, extending 50 years from 1986.
The French librarians stated that: “The case of Anne Frank’s Diary illustrates the complications that affect the public domain and undermine its very existence.” And, they continue, “the ABF seeks the harmonization of terms of protection rights at European level as well as a positive definition of the public domain, and protests against the recent interpretations designed to limit the spread of the Diary of Anne Frank, works belonging to our collective memory.”
The French academic, Olivier Ertzscheid, a lecturer at the University of Nantes, states that the diary “is a gift” which “belongs to everyone.” And in his open reply to the Foundation’s lawyers, he states that he is “not convinced by your argument that I believe improperly extends the term of protection of copyright to Anne Frank,” and furthermore that, “in a context of resurgence of anti-Semitic acts or nauseating denialist discourse, facing the rise of the far right in many European countries, and even as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf will enter the public domain on January 1st, 2016, public interest takes precedent.”
French Green Party MP Isabelle Attard, meanwhile, released her download of the Dutch text under the heading “Long Live Anne Frank, Long Live the Public Domain.” And, she states, “fighting the ‘privatization of knowledge,’ in the words of Aaron Swartz, is entirely valid. Creativity, content, are worth gold, and Google, Amazon & Co. know this perfectly well. Their obsession is to get their hands on the largest amount of content and monetize access to this cultural immensity.“
The Foundation may of course be acting out of concern for the heritage it’s long protected and for its own good works rather than mere greed. However, it is not helping its moral case by some rather distasteful spin on its adversaries’ actions. In statements to Swiss media, Yves Kugelmann, a board member at the Foundation, has declared that Anne Frank’s legacy is “being expropriated and subjected to attacks by populists,” joining “a long list of egoistic vagabonds, which began with attacks by Holocaust deniers and forgeries of the diary.” Bracketing public domain advocates with Holocaust deniers is hardly calculated to win allies, no matter how strong the feelings involved.
As this suggests, the whole debate may be academic now. The Anne Frank Dutch text is now online, and even if the Anne Frank Foundation manages to reassert its copyright, it can’t do anything now to hold back the digital copies now in open circulation. Residual copyright entitlements will likely just serve to enrich the Foundation through, for instance, broadcast or film rights. And it’s plain to see who the custodians of knowledge favor.