On January 1, 2016, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Joseph Goebbels’ diaries will both enter the public domain in most of Europe, where the term of protection ends 70 years after the death of a work’s author.
One of the Nazi’s most famous victims, Anne Frank, died the same year as Hitler and Goebbels – 1945. Anne Frank is best known as the author of The Diary of a Young Girl, one of the world’s most widely read books. It was commonly assumed by many that because Anne Frank perished at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, her diary would fall into the public domain on January 1, 2016. Yet Anne Frank Fonds, the foundation in Basel, Switzerland foundation that is the universal heir to the Frank family, says the copyright won’t expire for decades.
According to the Swiss foundation, The Diary of a Young Girl is not really one work. Apparently there was an original diary that Anne Frank started in July 1942. Then in March 1944, Anne Frank began creating a second version by rearranging and rewriting her journal for potential publication after the war. After the war, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, recovered the papers and created a third version, combining the remains of the first two versions and removing some entries that were too critical or intimate. It was Otto Frank’s version – the third version of the work – that was published in 1947.
Because of his role in editing, merging, and trimming entries from Anne’s diary and notebooks and reshaping them into a single work, the foundation claims that Otto was a co-author of the third version of Anne’s diary – the one that was originally published. Because Otto died in 1980, the foundation says the work is still protected by copyright and will be until 2050.
Many have criticized the move by the foundation. If Otto altered Anne’s diary enough to make him a co-author of the third version of the diary, does it mean that the third version is not merely an edited version but a new work that is not faithful to Anne’s words and thoughts? During Otto’s life, he maintained that the book contains his daughter’s words and that he had acted only as an editor. The foundation’s current position is being criticized for appearing to contradict that long-held position, and for doing so shortly before the work would otherwise fall into the public domain.
Though various groups have been critical of the foundation, it remains to be seen whether any will challenge this move and seek to determine whether the foundation’s claim is proper.