Protecting Anne Frank's Voice — Even 7 Decades Later

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tags: Anne Frank, copyright law



Roberta Rosenthal Kwall is the Raymond P. Niro Professor at DePaul University College of Law and the author of The Soul of Creativity: Forging a Moral Rights Law for the United States (Stanford University Press, 2010)

When Anne Frank wrote in her diary to pass the time, she probably never even thought about copyright law or the sticky question of who would come to own her words. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15, but her father Otto survived and eventually was persuaded to publish her diary. The Anne Frank Fonds, the foundation that now owns the copyright, is now proclaiming that Otto is the diary’s co-author by virtue of his substantial editorial involvement.

Why would the Foundation take this step? For many people, the answer is very simple: to extend the copyright protection for the most widely published version of the diary, which would allow the foundation to retain its substantial royalty income and control over publication. In most of Europe, copyright protection lasts for seventy years after an author’s death. Otto died thirty-five years after Anne, and so if European courts deem him an after-the-fact co-author, the copyright’s original expiration of January 1, 2016 would be extended until 2050.

Many copyright law experts have issued strong words of condemnation for the foundation’s move, despite its donation of the royalties to charity. The criticism leveled against the foundation is not unwarranted. Aside from the likelihood that this is merely a ploy to delay the diary’s entry into the public domain, there is another troubling issue raised by the foundation’s position. If Otto is now seen as a co-author, how does this impact the authenticity of Anne’s original voice and the legitimacy of the diary?

Whether the foundation’s position holds up legally remains to be seen. But whatever the decision on the merits of the foundation’s co-authorship claim, and whatever one thinks of the true motives prompting it to declare Otto as a co-author, we need to pause for a moment and consider the foundation’s stated justifications: to protect Anne’s voice.

To many, this explanation has a hollow ring, especially given the authenticity issues that surface in light of Otto’s co-authorship. But there is a legitimacy to the foundation’s reasoning that has gotten lost in the chorus of condemnation. In Europe, Israel and elsewhere, there is a rich legal tradition of protecting the author’s voice through laws requiring appropriate attribution and preventing modifications that are inconsistent with the author’s artistic dignity and spirit. These protections for the personal interests of authors are achieved through moral rights laws, and they are enforced even after the author’s death, for as long as the copyright is in force, and in some countries perpetually. ...







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