The Wikimedia Foundation has announced that it was required to remove a copy of the Dutch-language edition of The Diary of Anne Frank that was hosted on WMF servers due to American copyright law. Although Dutch copyright law on a work expires 70 years after the author’s death, meaning the work is (probably) in the public domain in the Netherlands, by American law the Diary is under copyright for 95 years after it was originally written. The Wikimedia Foundation explained that it was required to remove the media because the location of its servers, incorporation, and headquarters in the USA subject it to US jurisdiction.
As we previously reported, even the copyright status in the Netherlands is under dispute, with one of the foundations that bears Anne Frank’s name insisting that her father should have co-author status and hence extend its public domain entry for a few more decades. The French Librarians’ Association has spoken out against this rights-grab.
That being said, the differing public domain dates of different countries isn’t exactly new. It’s been an issue for years, and it seems doubtful that whoever uploaded the file to Wikimedia was unaware of the matter. For example, you could very easily find a copy of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, the last Holmes collection which is still under copyright in the US, simply by googling up a public-domain e-books site in the UK or Australia. Ditto for the later Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, and many other titles you’d care to name. Those sites don’t usually try to prevent people from the wrong countries from downloading books; they just warn such people that doing so would be naughty.
I have little doubt that Gutenberg, Wikimedia, and other public-domain repositories have to remove dozens or hundreds of mistakenly-uploaded titles per year—other titles that, like Case-Book, are in public domain in one jurisdiction but not in another. And they don’t make a special announcement every time that happens. They’re just making a big to-do out of this one because it’s in the news, and it’s a good time to use the publicity to call additional attention to the way that US copyright terms are really ridiculously long.
I can certainly get behind calling attention to that, but it remains unclear exactly what anyone can do about it. WMF lays out the reasons pretty clearly that they had to remove the title, and they in part rely on international treaty obligations. Meanwhile, one big new international treaty that may have some untoward implications for copyright reform is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Among other things, it will extend copyright to life plus 70 years for all its members. The TPP was recently signed by all 12 member countries with no public debate whatsoever, though it will only take effect if the US actually passes it—which seems unlikely given that many elected officials feel it doesn’t go far enough in protecting corporate interests.
TorrentFreak notes that the Internet Archive is still hosting a copy of the Dutch edition of the Diary—which doesn’t seem too surprising, as in some ways the Internet Archive doesn’t seem to care too much about scrupulously honoring US copyright law.