(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Copyright reform advocates and Holocaust historians are up in arms after the foundation that owns the rights to the Diary of Anne Frank last week attempted to extend its hold on the work by several decades.
On Friday, less than two months before the book’s copyright is set to expire and a year after it first announced its intention to do so, the Switzerland-based Anne Frank Foundation sent publishers a warning asserting that its ownership will not expire on the 70th anniversary of the young Frank’s death as expected, as her father, who never claimed authorship during his lifetime, was a co-author.
Claiming Otto Frank, who founded the foundation and died in 1980, as one of the creators of the work would allow for an extension of 35 years, leaving the widely read diaries as its current owners’ property until 2050.
In his introduction to his daughter’s diary, which she wrote in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during the World War II, Frank explicitly stated that the complete book was the work of his daughter.
Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before its liberation.
“I think it is a misguided move,” Holocaust historian and author of Denying the Holocaust Dr. Deborah Lipstadt told The Jerusalem Post.
“To suggest that her father was her co-author, even if it is only for copyright purposes, is not wise.
In years to come it might well be used to raise questions about the authenticity of the diary.”
Such concerns were also raised by copyright reform advocate and author Cory Doctorow.
Writing on the website Boing- Boing, Doctorow asserted that beyond the issue of assigning authorship rights to editors such as Otto Frank and the negative repercussions for living authors today, the move to posthumously assign Anne’s father a role in the diary’s creation undermines the authenticity of the document itself.
“By claiming that Otto Frank is co-author… of his daughter’s diaries, 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,” he wrote in an article entitled Copyfraud.
Likewise, French intellectual property attorney Agnès Tricoire was quoted by the New York Times asserting that “if you follow [the foundation’s] arguments, it means that they have lied for years about the fact that it was only written by Anne Frank.”
Such critics have taken a vastly different line than officials at the foundation, one of whom told the Times that the goal of the copyright move was to protect Frank’s legacy and to “make sure that Anne Frank stays Anne.”
According to the Times, the copyright row will also pit the foundation against the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. The two organizations have a litigious history and a new intellectual property conflict could spell trouble for a digital version of the diary that the museum has been preparing for online publication after its copyright expires.
In a statement on its website, the museum stated that the date of expiry will vary from country to country, depending on national laws, but that it is sure that “Anne Frank is the sole author of the A and B versions of the diary and the short stories” and that “neither Otto Frank nor any other person is co-author.”
Alvin H. Rosenfeld, professor of English and Jewish Studies at Indiana University, said many times over the years false charges have been made by people of ill will about the authorship of the famous Amsterdam diary.
“Claims that Anne Frank never wrote it but her father did have been the stock-intrade of anti-Semites who have sought to undermine the validity of the diary and declare it a hoax,” he said.
“The story of Otto Frank’s alleged ‘co-authorship’ that you reference below is not of this bogus kind and does not spring from such malicious motives. All the same, I find it regrettable, for it may once again revive doubts regarding the ‘true’ authorship of the book and reinforce the arguments of Holocaust deniers and others like them who have long wanted to neutralize the historical value of Anne Frank’s diary.”
Complicating the issue is the fact that in the early 1990s a revised and expanded version of the diary was published, with copyright granted to the editor of that work, who handed over her rights to the foundation.
Such quibbling over Frank’s legacy has left a bitter taste in many mouthes, said Doctorow.
“To treat the words of Anne Frank, who inspired so many millions around the world, as an eternal money-spinner for one organization’s purposes is to cheapen them. They’re not an annuity: they’re an inspiration. They can’t be both,” Doctorow wrote.