'The Diary Of Anne Frank' Copyright Controversy Escalates

George Zapo

Anne Frank died 70 years ago at a German concentration camp called Bergen-Belsen. Anne, a 15-year-old Jewish girl, died at the prison after being arrested and after having spent years in hiding with her family and others to escape from the Nazis during World War II.

In 1942, Anne Frank, her father Otto, mother Edith, and sister Margot, along with four other people of Jewish persuasion, took refuge and hid in the secret annex to avoid being sent to concentration camps and the likelihood of death. Besides the Frank family, Hermann and Auguste van Pels with their son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer lived in the cramped hideout. Everyone lived in constant fear of discovery.

Anne Frank started keeping a diary from her 13th birthday. She took her diary to the hiding place. Anne spent most of the time in the hideout thinking about life, and recorded her thoughts in her diary.

Anne didn't just keep a diary during her time in the secret annex. She also wrote short stories and collected her favorite sentences by other writers in a notebook. Anne hoped for her diary to be published as a novel after the war.

But Anne never managed to finish her literary works. Anne, her family, and the others in hiding were unfortunately discovered and arrested before she was able to complete her work. On August 4, 1944, someone betrayed everyone in the secret annex and all were arrested. Anne, her family and the others were all deported to the Westerbork transit camp, and then on to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps.

Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank is the only person from the secret annex to survive the camps. All others in the small group died. The identity of their betrayer has never been established.

Otto Frank, the family's only survivor, tried to secure Anne's legacy by arranging for her diary and notebooks to be published. Additionally, in 1960, Otto Frank and the City of Amsterdam helped save the building where the family had hidden – now called the Anne Frank House.

Three years later, Otto set up a foundation called the Anne Frank Fonds, in Basil, Switzerland, in order to collect the diary's royalties and distribute them to charities, such as UNICEF, children's education projects, and a medical fund that today supports close to 50 gentiles who saved Jews during World War II. He left her actual diary and notebooks to the Dutch state.

The Anne Frank foundation does not publish yearly reports about its finances. However, in recent years, they reported that they had donated about $1.5 million annually to hundreds of charitable organizations.

Historian of modern Jewish history at the University of Göttingen in Germany, Gerben Zaagsma, says Otto Frank may have created a mess of Anne's legacy.

"Effectively, Otto split up the legacy of his daughter, which one could say has created a bit of a nice mess ever since."

Today, the Swiss foundation holds the copyright to The Diary of Anne Frank. The foundation is alerting publishers that her father is not only the editor but also legally the co-author of the celebrated book.

In addition, editor Mirjam Pressler, revised, edited and added 25 percent more material from Anne Frank's diary for what was called a "definitive edition" in 1991, the New York Times reports in this latest Anne Frank story. Pressler qualified for a copyright for her creative work, and the rights were transferred to the foundation, according to lawyer, Kamiel Koelman.

Six years ago, the foundation searched for advice on the copyright from a number of legal experts in various countries. The experts said that Otto Frank "created a new work" because of his role of editing, merging and trimming entries from Anne's diary and notebooks and reshaping them into "kind of a collage" becoming its own copyright.

Legal experts said, though it can be argued in court, by declaring that Otto Frank is the "co-author" on copyright filings, extends the years of the copyright.

Yves Kugelmann, a member of the foundation's board, said officials at the foundation said that their aim is to "make sure that Anne Frank stays Anne."

Mr. Kugelmann claims that by maintaining control and avoiding inappropriate exploitation of the work of Anne Frank, the foundation is keeping her best interest in mind.

"When she died, she was a young girl who was not even 16. We are protecting her. That is our task."

However, Stef van Gompel, a professor at the University of Amsterdam who specializes in copyright law, says extending the copyright runs counter to the laws intention.

"There is a good reason that copyrights are limited, so that people can freely use. It doesn't mean that they need to be protected for all eternity."
"The best protection of the work is to bring it in the public domain, because its audience will grow even more. What is happening now is a bluff and pure intimidation."

However, if the foundation succeeds, publishers may wind up waiting even longer than the 70 years allowed after Otto Frank's death. Copyrights in Europe usually end 70 years after an author's death. Anne Frank died 70 years ago at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and Otto Frank died in 1980.

The move of extending Anne Frank's copyright has a practical effect. It extends the copyright from Jan. 1, 2016 when it is set to expire in most European countries, to the end of 2050. Extending the copyright would block others from being able to publish the book without paying royalties or receiving permission.

In the United States, the copyright for Anne Frank's diary will still end in 2047, 95 years after the first publication of the book in 1952.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]