It would seem counterintuitive for a book entitled The Diary of Anne Frank to have another author besides, well, Anne Frank. But strange things happen in the Year of Our Lord 2015 – and by “strange things,” I mean copyright gymnastics propelled by a yen for profit. In naming Anne’s father, Otto Frank, co-author of the Diary, the Anne Frank Fonds can extend the copyright until 2050, thus preventing others from publishing the book without “paying royalties or receiving permission.”
Doreen Carvajal of the New York Times explains further:
“The move has a practical effect: It extends the copyright from Jan. 1, when it is set to expire in most of Europe, to the end of 2050. Copyrights in Europe generally end 70 years after an author’s death. Anne Frank died 70 years ago at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp, and Otto Frank died in 1980. Extending the copyright would block others from being able to publish the book without paying royalties or receiving permission.”
If this development doesn’t sit well with you either, know that you and I are not alone. Parisian lawyer Agnès Tricoire tells the Times, “If you follow [the foundation’s] arguments, it means that they have lied for years that [the diary] was only written by Anne Frank.” For an organization that claims to “want to protect Anne’s legacy,” muddling the question of authorship seems a funny way of doing that.
It’s true that Otto Frank “has long been acknowledged as an editor and compiler” of The Diary of Anne Frank, but these are very particular roles, and not ones that we conflate with authorship. An editor shepherds and refines the work of an author; they do not claim the ideas as their own. As Cory Doctorow writing for BoingBoing points out, by claiming co-authorship, “the Foundation is arguing that the diaries don’t represent Anne’s views and thoughts, but rather, that they have been intentionally distorted by her father to the point where they can no longer be said to be a faithful rendition of her diaries” (emphasis Doctorow).
What a severe repercussion for the sake of, as copyright law professor Stef van Gompel tells the Times, “[asking] money for publication of the works.”
Say, however, that the Anne Frank Fonds is honest when it claims that its sole aim is to “make sure that Anne Frank stays Anne” – not, as many assume, profit. It does, after all, donate considerable proceeds to charity. And intellectual property law is complex business. We certainly cannot know the intricacies of a such a labyrinthine legal situation.
Well, it frankly doesn’t matter. Allowing texts to enter into the public domain ensures a much larger readership than tethering them to one copyright holder. Those who have not yet encountered Anne Frank would have greater opportunity to find solace in her legacy – to read her words and form intimacies with them. As French politician Isabelle Attard argues via the Times, “The best protection of the work is to bring it in the public domain, because its audience will grow even more.” In concurrence, Doctorow claims, “Heritage isn’t owned – once it is, it’s not heritage anymore.”
Anne Frank “stays” Anne to the extent that we continue to read her, love her. But it’s foolish to assume that her legacy can be a static one, or that one interpretation–or translation–of her diary will prevail. Reading is too fundamentally personal for that. We ought to make Anne’s words available to all who seek them, to facilitate the bittersweet joy of knowing her in one’s own way.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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