Who owns the copyright in Anne Frank’s Diary?

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Anne Frank wrote her diary between June 1942 and August 1944 during the period in which she and her family were in hiding in Amsterdam. She died in 1945, aged 15, in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Under EU law, copyright lasts for 70 years from the author’s death, which, in the case of Anne Frank, takes us into 2015. Assuming Anne Frank was the sole author, therefore, the Diary is due to come out of copyright imminently – and indeed a French MP, Isabelle Attard, is preparing to publish the text online on 1 January next year.

However, the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss foundation established by Anne’s father Otto in 1963, has informed publishers that the Diary will not be coming out of copyright in 2016 because Otto had done so much work on the most widely published version of the Diary that he had “earned his own copyright”. Otto died in 1980.

This is more than simply a copyright dispute. Right-wing revisionists have attempted in the past to attack the Diary’s credibility and, Isabelle Attard maintains, casting doubt on Annes’ authorship of the Diary bolsters this type of argument.

Isabelle Attard is not the only person planning to publish the text of the Diary in the New Year; a lecturer at the University of Nantes, Olivier Ertzscheid, is also preparing to publish the text of the original Dutch edition of the Diary on 1 January with plans for a French translation later in the month.

The position of the Anne Frank Fonds is not that Otto is the co-author in the sense that he wrote the Diary alongside Anne. However, it maintains that, after the war, Otto, together with Mirjam Pressler, merged, or compiled, the two versions of the Diary that Anne left, which individually had been incomplete and partly overlapped, into one reader-friendly version. The version he created, the Foundation maintains, is his creation and, as such, any publication by Attard or Ertzscheid would be copyright infringement.

The Foundation is attracting a considerable amount of criticism for its stance and it would be surprising, to say the least, if someone does not take the risk of being sued and publish in January, without “authorisation” from the Foundation. One argument that has been put forward is that it is also 70 years since the death of Adolf Hitler, meaning that his writings, Mein Kampf, in particular, also come out of copyright and that there needs to be a counterpart to this.