The Diary of a Young Girl, written by Anne Frank between 1940 and 1944 while she was in hiding, is widely considered a touchstone of both literature and history. Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in the occupied city of Amsterdam during World War II. They were ultimately discovered, and Anne died of typhus in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in 1945.
After the war ended, the pages of the diary were found in their hiding space and eventually given to Anne’s father, Otto, the lone surviving member of the family. Otto compiled the pages and edited the manuscript to remove certain material, and the manuscript was published in 1947. Additional editions have since been published that restored the edited material. Since its first publication, The Diary of a Young Girl has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than 70 languages.
Now, 70 years after Anne Frank’s death, her diaries have spawned some copyright controversy. Copyrights in Europe generally expire 70 years after the author’s death (cf. Art. 64 of the German Copyright Act; Art. 1 of Directive 2006/116/EC). Because Anne died in 1945, her work was expected to enter the public domain on 1 January 2016 – but it might not happen.
On 17 November 2014, the Anne Frank Foundation – a non-profit organization that administers the copyrights on all of Anne Frank’s writings – issued a statement that people would be “wrong to assume that the copyrights to Anne Frank’s Diaries would be due to expire in the near future, or that anyone would be free to use and publish them without permission.” The foundation claims that copyrights were earned by Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler for two versions of the diaries that they edited and that were published in 1947 and 1991, respectively. Both editors significantly revised the original diaries and, thus, should each be considered a co-author of the work. The copyrights to the adaptations by Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler, which are the property of the foundation, would not expire until much later: Otto Frank died in 1980 and Mirjam Pressler is still alive.
It will be difficult to establish whether the editors contributed to Anne Frank’s diary in a way that was meaningful enough to make them each a co-author. The question of co-authorship will ultimately depend on the editors’ intellectual contribution to the diary, which can only be assessed by determining the full extent of their contributions to their respective editions.
In any event, the alleged co-authorship of Anne Frank’s father and Mirjam Pressler will have no bearing on the diary’s copyright term in the United States. Works originally copyrighted after 1922 and renewed before 1978 were given a copyright term of 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years) from the end of the year in which they were originally secured. Since the English version of the diary was registered (and published) in 1952, it will remain under copyright until 2047. The original Dutch version was registered (and published) in 1947 and its copyright term will expire in 2042.