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'The Diary of a Young Girl' has sold over 30 million copies
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Copyright fight over Anne Frank's diary
Classic book, often used to teach the Holocaust to young people, is about to enter the public domain; the Anne Frank Foundation says this is invalid, while others urge free access to the important work.
Two books, diametrically opposed and written by two of the most famous figures of World War II, are both currently at the center of international legal battles - Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and Anne Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl." One book is a diatribe from the most heinous murderer of all. The other collects the thoughts of the innocent victim who stubbornly continued to believe in humanity's goodness and has since turned into one of the symbols of the Holocaust.

 

 

On January 1, 2016, 70 years after their authors' deaths, the works are supposed to enter the public domain in accordance with European copyright law.

 

Anne Frank  (Photo: AFP)
Anne Frank

 

While the danger in allowing the fair use of racist and anti-democratic writings like Hitler's is clear to almost all, as is the understanding why the distribution of "Mein Kampf" must be limited, objections to introducing "The Diary of a Young Girl" to the public domain are not as clear and have raised quite a few questions.

 

The rights to the diary have so far been held by the Anne Frank Foundation, a Swiss-based organization established by Anne's fater, Otto Frank, in 1963. The foundation argues that the date of Anne Frank's death 70 years ago should not be the date on which her copyright expired, as Otto Frank made such significant changes to the manuscript that he "earned his own copyright."

 

Otto Frank found the diary at the apartment where his family hid during much of the Holocaust. After learning that his entire family was dead, Otto went over the manuscript, edited his daughter's memories into the book, and brought it to publishers.

 

The foundation, which threatens to sue anyone who breaches its copyright, claims that the definitive version of the diary was published in 1986, six years after Otto's death. "Under Dutch copyright law, a work first published posthumously before 1995 remains protected for 50 years after the initial publication," the foundation said.

 

'Don't let them forget the Holocaust'

A French parlamentarian and a university lecturer decided to take the legal risk upon themselves and published "The Diary of a Young Girl" in Dutch (the original language in which it was written) on their websites on Friday, New Year's Day.

 

French MP Isabelle Attard is a director of museums, well-known researcher, and an activist in left-wing organizations that fight for the public's right for free access to information. Scholar Olivier Ertzscheid is a lecturer on the freedom of information and the media at the University of Nantes in western France.

 

Two months ago, Ertzscheid published the French translation of the diary online, but quickly took it down after being threatened with a lawsuit by the French publisher. The academic believes that he has more of a chance to win the battle with the original Dutch version of the diary.

 

On his website, accordance.info ("the blog of a lecturer on the freedom of information"), Ertzscheid wrote that "because the diary helps us to never forget what happened and provided many readers with the ability to understand, I am convinced that there is no other struggle to be conducted other than releasing the diary for the good of the public."

 

Ertzscheid also replied to the warning letter sent by the Foundation's lawyers warning of legal action. "One thing is important to me," wrote the academic, "and that is for Anne Frank's work to be distributed among the public at large, so this text gets wider circulation and recognition than it has now."

 

Ertzscheid accused the foundation of exploiting copyright law. "Given the rise of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and in the face of the growth of the radical right in a number of European countries, at the time 'Mein Kampf' becomes public property, I think the common interest is to publicly disseminate the diary without calling into question the memorializing and educational work conducted by the Anne Frank Foundation," he wrote.

 

Attard went further, with her spokesperson accusing the Anne Frank Foundation of greed. "Saying now that the book was not written by Anne alone weakens the weight the book had for decades as testimony to the horrors of war," argued Attard.  

 

Last Tuesday, before the directors of the Anne Frank Foundation had the chance to respond legally to Attard's publication of the diary on her site, a Dutch court ruled that parts of the diary could be copied for research purposes.

 

"The Diary of a Young Girl" is without a doubt the most well-known documentation of Nazi persecution in the world, having sold over 30 million copies. Anne Frank's family moved from Frankfurt, Germany to Amsterdam shortly before the Nazis rose to power. Once the Germans occupied the Netherlands and began persecuting the country's Jews, the Franks found a hiding place, a secret annex in an apartment owned by an employee of Otto Frank.

 

The family hid for about two years, forced to constantly be careful about noise and light, until being betrayed to the Nazis by an individual who has never been identified.

 

The entire family, as well as the family hiding with them, was sent to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister Margot were later moved to Bersen-Belsen, where Anne died at the age of 15 of typhus, only three weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allies. Otto was the only member of the family to survive.

 

Among the most famous passages in the book appears in an entry written about two weeks before the Franks' arrest.

 

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out," wrote Anne. "Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."  

 

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