Nov 18, 2015

Copyright Protection and Books from the Second World War

On 1 January 2016, Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf', will enter the public domain in Europe as the 70 year after the death of the author of that work copyright protection ends. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' diaries will similarly enter the public domain around this time.

Another famous writer from this time is Anne Frank, one of the Nazis' most famous victims. She is known for the 'Diary of Anne Frank'. She died in the same year as Hitler, in 1945. Under the usual copyright rules, her literary works would enter the public domain after 70 years from the date of the death of the author. However, the Swiss-based foundation that is the heir to the Frank estate argues that the copyrights attaching to the various versions of her work won't expire for decades to come.

The Anne Frank Fonds ("Foundation"), a non-profit organisation, was set up in 1963 by Anne's father, Otto Frank. The Foundation administers the rights to all works created by Anne and says that copyright is crucial to protect her from work unchecked commercial misuse. It transpires that the 'Diary' as we all know was an edited compilation of two earlier works created by Anne Frank. This edited version was then complied into one book or diary, by her father, Otto which was first published in 1947.

The Foundation is alerting publishers that her father is not only the editor but also legally the co-author of the celebrated book. This is because his role in editing, compiling, merging and trimming entries from Anne Frank's diary and notebooks and reconstructing them into a 'collage' merits its own copyright. As Otto didn't die until 1980, the Foundation says the work is protected by copyright and will be until 2050.

In the United States, the diary's copyright will still end in 2047, 95 years after the first publication of the book in 1952. U.S. law provides a 95-year copyright term for foreign works published between 1923 and 1977. While the Foundation, signalled its intentions a year ago, warnings about the change have provoked uproar. Some people opposed to the move have declared that they plan to defy the Foundation's decision and publish parts of her text.

The legalities in the case of 'Mein Kampf' are more straightforward. The state of Bavaria inherited the copyright in 1945 after the dissolution of Eher-Verlag, the Munich-based Nazi publishing house. No one is disputing that the European copyright on the book will run out in January. Rather, the debate has been whether to pre-empt the change by issuing critical, scholarly annotated versions, as publishers in Germany and France plan, or to trust that letting the book into the public domain will expose its dull, delusional content. As copyright is country-based, the Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says it holds the U.S. rights to Mein Kampf until 2022 as per U.S. law.

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