Debatable Copyright and Online Shakespeare

By Charlton, John | Information Today, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Debatable Copyright and Online Shakespeare


Charlton, John, Information Today


French academic Olivier Ertzscheid and French parliamentarian Isabelle Attard are taking something of a copyright gamble by posting Anne Frank's diary online. Although it has been 70 years since Frank's death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the Swiss-based Anne Frank Fonds (AFF) insists that the standard copyright term of life plus 70 years does not apply to The Diary of a Young Girl, because Frank's father, Otto, edited and had enough creative input into the version that was in print from 1947 until the 1990s, he earned his own copyright. He died in 1980. In addition, the AFF claims that original manuscripts of the diary were first published as a scholarly edition in the 1980s.

In a letter sent to Ertzscheid in December 2015, the AFF told him not to publish the work online. He was warned that should he (or others he may have "enticed") do so, he would face damages and a 1,000 [euro] (about $1,093) a day fine. He and Attard have each gone ahead with publication.

At the time of this writing, Ertzscheid says that he has heard nothing from the AFF. He adds that he and Attard disagree with the AFF's view that the diary will not enter the public domain "until about 2030 or 2050. We maintain it came into the public domain on 1 January 2016, 70 years after the death of Anne Frank. If the fund decides to take us to court we will defend this position."

Barbara Eldridge, the AFF's executive secretary, says, "[W]e do not have any comment in this matter. The Anne Frank Fonds has been faced with copyright and other infringements as well as illegal versions of the Diary for many decades and prefers not to deal publicly with such issues."

The AFF claims that under Dutch copyright law, a work published posthumously before 1995 remains protected for 50 years. In its view, this gives protection from the date of the publication in 1986 of the scholarly edition of the diary, and "the manuscripts will therefore remain protected until 1 January 2037. Similar rules apply in many other countries, including France...."

Ertzscheid says he took legal advice before posting the diary. "I've had discussions with many lawyers and experts of intellectual property. They agree with our arguments: Otto Frank can't be considered as a 'coauthor' of the Diary...."

Librarian Detained

In Russia, librarian Natalia Sharina was placed under house arrest in October 2015 after the authorities took umbrage at some of the works held by the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow, of which she is director. Her lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, says she is being held while the Russian authorities investigate the case. "She is under house arrest. She may neither leave her home nor use phone or Internet communication." He says she has to wear a monitor.

According to Pavlov, "The whole case looks like a crude frame-up.... [S]uch obstinate persecution of the Library of Ukrainian Literature by the Investigative Committee looks at least strange...." As for the library, Pavlov says, it is now "subordinate" to Moscow's Department for National Policy, Inter-Regional Relations and Tourism rather than the city's Department of Culture. He says that library employees--"who had been questioned more than once and whose homes had been searched"--have seen their salaries reduced significantly. "I have got some information from a source in the Government of Moscow that they plan to liquidate the library," adds Pavlov. He plans to provide updates on court proceedings on his Facebook page.

Once More Unto the MOOC

On a far less controversial note, the British Library (BL) is pulling out all the stops--well, lots of them--as it celebrates the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, which is on April 23. …

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