Anne Frank Foundation Extends Copyright on Diary

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Anne Frank's HouseAnne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. She was 15 years old.

Anne became posthumously famous worldwide for the journal she kept while she and her family and friends were hiding from the Nazis in a “secret annex” in an office building. Those hiding were betrayed, arrested, and sent to concentration camps for the “crime” of being Jewish.

The journal was recovered by her father after World War II – he was the only member of the family to survive – and published in 1947 under the title The Diary of a Young Girl.

The diary has been translated into 67 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies. It’s considered one of the most beloved and influential works of the 20th century.

Copyright Protection and the Public Domain

In Europe, copyright protection generally ends 70 years after the death of the author of a work. Thus, the copyright for the Diary is set to expire January 1, 2016. (Anne’s precise date of death is not known.)

Once the copyright expires on a work, it’s said to be in the “public domain” – anyone can publish and distribute copies, create derivative works (such as movies), and exercise any of the other rights previously exclusive to the copyright owner.

The Swiss foundation that owns the copyright – Anne Frank Fonds – is seeking to extend the copyright on the Diary by naming Anne’s father, Otto Frank, as a co-author.

The foundation now asserts that Otto Frank “created a new work” when he published his daughter’s diary, in that he edited and combined entries from her diaries and notebooks into a “kind of collage.”

Otto Frank died in 1980, so that would extend the term of the copyright to 2050.

Another editor, Mirjam Pressler, further revised and edited the Diary and added 25% more of Anne’s original work. Her “definitive edition” was published in 1991 and the copyright was transferred to the foundation. She is still alive, and under current copyright law her copyright would not expire until 70 years after her death.

The Foundation

Otto Frank set up the foundation to collect the royalties from the published versions of the diary. According to the New York Times, the royalties are distributed to

charities such as Unicef, children’s education projects and a medical fund that today supports about 50 gentiles who saved Jews during the war. 

The foundation says that it donates about $1.5 million annually to several hundred charities.

The longer the copyright lasts, the longer the foundation can continue to collect royalties and distribute them to worthy causes.

The foundation officials say that they are also concerned about inappropriate exploitation of the work.

Challenging the Extension

Bootleg copies of the Diary have been posted online, according to the Times, and the foundation’s attempt to extend the copyright might not stand if challenged in court.

Some scholars have said that the best way to protect the Diary and give it the widest possible audience is to let it fall into the public domain.

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