Intro text | Tekst wstępny
On this year’s ‘World Intellectual Property Day’ (April 26) we’re highlighting one of the absurd consequences of the fragmented copyright regime in the European Union.
One of the most iconic literary works of the 20th century is The Diary of Anne Frank (‘Het Achterhuis’ in Dutch). It should have become part of the public domain in 2016, because the copyright in the work should have expired (copyright typically lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years, and Frank tragically died in 1945). However, as of today the diary is only in the public domain in a few countries, including Poland. In most other European countries, the well-known work remains restricted under copyright.
Today, the Polish digital education organisation Centrum Cyfrowe published The Diary of Anne Frank online. But unless you’re in Poland, you won’t be able to access the online version of the diary. Why? Because EU copyright law only permits publication of the diary in countries where it is in the public domain. For now, the diary will remain geo-blocked, and only visible to users access it from within Poland.
We’re saddened that the online version of The Diary of Anne Frank cannot be more widely shared. We believe that it should be a part of the global public domain and freely accessible to everyone who wants to read and experience this important cultural work. We call upon European legislators to end the absurdity that has led to this situation. The Diary should be a powerful part of our collectively-shared public domain. Instead, the fragmented, varied rules about the duration of copyright across Europe has made the work inaccessible to so many potential readers. We call for the harmonisation (and preferably, shortening) of copyright terms. And geo-blocking—in which access to content is determined based on the location of the user—needs to end.
If you want to be able to freely access The Diary of Anne Frank, we need your help. Share your thoughts, views, and concerns using the social media hashtag #ReadAnneDiary. Let’s get the word out about why we all should be able to read and cherish this significant literary work.
There are three different versions of The Diary of Anne Frank—referred to as the A, B, or C version. The most well-known is version C: This is the work that was published in 1947 in the Netherlands under the title 'Het Achterhuis'. It has since been translated into more than 60 languages. Version C was compiled by Anne's father, Otto Frank, from two sets of diaries that Anne kept during her period in hiding.
Those two sets of diaries are version A and version B. Version A consists of the original entries written between 14 June 1942 and 1 August 1944. On Anne’s thirteenth birthday, she received a red and white diary book which in which she started her journaling. Once that book was full, she continued writing in several other notebooks. Not all of these notebooks have been preserved—for example, most of 1943 is missing. Version A now consists of 3 notebooks in addition to the original red and white diary book.
While listening to the radio sometime in the spring of 1944, Anne heard a request from the exiled Dutch government to preserve diaries and other writings made during the occupation for post-war publication. Anne decided to rewrite her original diary entries in the form of a novel so that they could be published after the war. These texts, written primarily on looseleaf paper, cover events up until March 1944. This writing constitutes version B.
Otto Frank used parts of version A and version B when he compiled ‘Het Achterhuis’. That work—version C—was published in 1947.
The original text of version A and version B were not published until 1986, when they were released by the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD). Those versions have seen relatively limited circulation, and are currently available only on the second-hand market.
In Europe, copyright protection, in principle, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. This means that a work enters the public domain on 1 January of the year following the 70th anniversary of the death of the author. When a work becomes a part of the public domain, anyone is able to freely access and use the work without any restriction. A person would be free to publish the work online, or even print a new edition and sell the book in a bookstore.
Anne Frank died in early 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Based on the calculation above, it was widely expected that The Diary of Anne Frank would enter the public domain on the 1st of January 2016.
But unfortunately, a tangle of copyright rules has made this case not so simple. After the death of Otto Frank in 1980, the copyrights in The Diary of Anne Frank were transferred to the Anne Frank Fonds, a Switzerland-based foundation that “promotes charitable works and plays a social and cultural role in the spirit of Anne Frank”. With regard to version C, the foundation claimed that Otto Frank should be considered a co-author, and as a result, it would remain in copyright until 2051 (the duration of the life of Anne’s father, plus 70 years). While this claim has not been tested in court, there is a high likelihood that Otto Frank would indeed be considered a co-author of the work.
While it is clear that Anne is the sole author of her original writings (version A and version B), there are only a few EU member states—such as Poland—where these are in the public domain. This is due to a special rule adopted by countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and France which granted a different term of copyright for works published posthumously. These works would receive copyright protection for 50 years following the first publication. The special rules were phased out in the mid-1990s, when copyright regulation was updated in the EU. However, transitional provisions said that any rights that had previously existed would continue to remain in effect. Therefore, because version A and version B were only first published in 1987, they’ll receive copyright protection in the countries that had adopted the special rule until 2036.
The Anne Frank foundation is aggressively leveraging its copyright to prevent the online publication of any version of The Diary of Anne Frank. In 2015 it sued the Huygens Institute of the Royal Academy of Sciences in the Netherlands to prevent the online publication of an annotated version of the original writings. As a result, access to version A and version B are still extremely limited. We believe that the public should have the right to access and read these historic works. And we deplore the obscure yet persistent transitional copyright provisions that are being employed to limit access to a work that should belong to us all in the public domain.
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April 26th, World Intellectual Property Day, is a good moment to highlight the absurdly long duration of copyright in the EU, the fact that, contrary to general assumptions, the duration of copyright is still not harmonized across the EU and the troubling fact of geoblocking which creates boundaries online.
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The manuscripts of Anne Frank were included in 2009 in UNESCO Memory of the World Register - the World Heritage List for documents.