Anne Frank's famous Diary of a Young Girl entered the public domain today, making it free to download, read, and distribute, 70 years after her death. Copyright on the diary, written while the young Frank was hiding in an attic with her family from soldiers during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, was scheduled to run out on January 1st, 2016. Within a few hours of the clock striking midnight on the new year, the full text was available to read — in its original Dutch — online.
Anne Frank's father made changes to her manuscript
The publication comes as a copyright dispute still swirls around the diary. By European law, written works enter the public domain 70 years after their author dies. Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, but Anne Frank Fonds — the charitable foundation set up in her memory — argues that her father Otto made such significant changes to the manuscript that he had "earned his own copyright." Otto Frank — who outlived Anne and died in 1980 — reportedly combined two versions of his daughter's diaries, cutting and pasting certain sections to make a single, readable record. "The book he created earns his own copyright," Yves Kugelmann, one of Anne Frank Fonds' trustees, said. "For the purposes of copyright, he is to be viewed as an ‘author' of that version."
Some, such as French parliament member Isabelle Attard, have criticized this position, arguing that it lessens the impact of the diary. A spokesperson for Attard — who put a copy of the book up today on her own site — said that adding another author to the diary "is weakening the weight it has had for decades, as a testimony to the horrors of this war." But Kugelmann specifies that although Otto's work should reset the copyright clock, "this does not imply that he ‘co-wrote' anything."
Her diary enters the public domain at the same time as Hitler's Mein Kampf
Frank's diary enters the public domain on the same day as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, a grim quirk of history and copyright law that Attard's spokesperson says heightens the importance of its free publication. Anne Frank's diary, a "very important work about the horrors of the second world war" not entering the public domain at the same time as Hitler's infamous manifesto was "inacceptable" for Attard, her spokesperson said.
The foundation fighting its publication threatened legal action against those publishing the diary for free. It points instead to a 1986 reprint of the diary by the Dutch State Institute for War Documentation, a posthumous publication that pushes the date the book would enter the public domain back to January 1st, 2037. For now, though, the book remains online, making Anne Frank's important and illuminating look at her young life free to read. That's assuming you can read Dutch — the book's translations are still under copyright.