The Swiss foundation that holds the copyright to “The Diary of Anne Frank” is alerting publishers that her father is not only the editor but also legally the co-author of the celebrated book.

Share story

PARIS — When Otto Frank first published his daughter’s red-checked diary and notebooks, he wrote a prologue assuring readers the book mostly contained her words, written while hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex of a factory in Amsterdam.

But the Swiss foundation that holds the copyright to “The Diary of Anne Frank” is alerting publishers that her father is not only the editor but also legally the co-author of the celebrated book.

The move has a practical effect: It extends the copyright from Jan. 1, when it is set to expire in most of Europe, to the end of 2050. Copyrights in Europe generally end 70 years after an author’s death. Anne Frank died 70 years ago at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp, and Otto Frank died in 1980. Extending the copyright would block others from being able to publish the book without paying royalties or receiving permission.

In the United States, the diary’s copyright will still end in 2047, 95 years after the first publication of the book in 1952.

While the foundation, the Anne Frank Fonds, in Basel, signaled its intentions a year ago, warnings about the change have provoked a furor as the deadline approaches. Some people opposed to the move have said they would defy the foundation and publish portions of her text.

Foundation officials “should think very carefully about the consequences,” said Agnès Tricoire, a lawyer in Paris who specializes in intellectual property rights in France, where critics have been the most vociferous and are organizing a challenge. “If you follow their arguments, it means that they have lied for years about the fact that it was only written by Anne Frank.”

The decision has also set the foundation on a possible collision course with the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, a separate entity that for years has sparred with the Anne Frank foundation over legal questions, such as ownership of archives and trademark issues.

The museum has been working for five years with historians and researchers on an elaborate Web version of the diary intended for publication once the copyright expires. The research is progressing with a historical and textual analysis of her writing, including deletions, corrections and stains.

“We haven’t decided yet when or how the results will be published,” said Maatje Mostart, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank House. “Any publishing will always be done within the legal frameworks.” She added that neither “Otto Frank nor any other person is co-author.”

One of Anne’s own astute diary entries seemed to anticipate the disputes: “Why do grown-ups quarrel so easily?”

Anne was 15 when she died at Bergen-Belsen. She had been arrested after someone alerted authorities that the family had been hiding in the secret annex of a pectin factory on the Prinsengracht, or Prince’s Canal. Otto Frank was the family’s only survivor.

After arranging for her diary and notebooks to be published, he tried to secure Anne’s legacy. In 1960, he and the city of Amsterdam helped save the building where the family had hidden. (It became the Anne Frank House.)

Three years later, he set up the foundation in Switzerland to collect the diary’s royalties and distribute them to charities such as UNICEF, children’s education projects and a medical fund that today supports about 50 gentiles who saved Jews during the war. He left her diaries and notebooks to the Dutch state.

“Effectively, Otto split up the legacy of his daughter, which one could say has created a bit of a nice mess ever since,” said Gerben Zaagsma, a historian of modern Jewish history at the University of Goettingen in Germany who is working on a scholarly edition of the diary backed by the foundation and Germany’s culture ministry.

The foundation does not publish yearly reports about its finances. But in recent years, it said it had donated about $1.5 million annually to hundreds of charitable organizations.

“The longer they can claim copyright protection, the longer they can ask money for publication of the works,” said Stef van Gompel, a professor at the University of Amsterdam who specializes in copyright law.

Six years ago, the foundation asked legal experts in various countries for advice on its copyright, according to Yves Kugelmann, a member of the foundation’s board. They concluded, he said, that Otto Frank “created a new work” because of his role of editing and trimming entries from her diary and notebooks and reshaping them into “kind of a collage” meriting its own copyright.

Merely declaring Otto Frank the “co-author” on copyright filings extends the copyright, legal experts said, though such a stand could be tested in the courts. Readers would not see any changes in the books, foundation officials said.

The foundation’s officials said their aim is to “make sure that Anne Frank stays Anne,” Kugelmann said, by maintaining control and avoiding exploitation of the work. “When she died, she was a young girl who was not even 16. We are protecting her. That is our task.”

Critics, he said, are wrongly looking at the intended change as a financial matter.

“It is not about the money,” he said.

But van Gompel, the copyright professor, said extending the copyright runs counter to the intention of the laws. “There is a good reason that copyrights are limited, so that people can freely use” written materials, he said. “It doesn’t mean that they need to be protected for all eternity.”