There’s no business like the Anne Frank business
What we talk about when we talk about the legacy of Anne Frank (Credits to Nathan Englander).
On Monday 17 November, 2014, Dutch television will broadcast a documentary on the ‘Anne Frank industry’: the commercial side to the legacy of Anne Frank. For the past decades two organisations have fought a battle over who ‘owns’ the legacy of Anne Frank. Anne Frank, or at least her image, has long been an industry if only for the sheer revenues involved.
The Anne Frank Stichting is the caretaker of the hiding place of the Frank family during the war. It also operates the Anne Frank Museum at the same location. The Anne Frank Fonds in Basel, Switzerland, operates an educational centre and owns the copyrights to the diary of Anne Frank.
The copyrights are the biggest asset of the Swiss foundation. The diary of Anne Frank is one of the best-selling books of all time. Whoever owns the copyrights, receives a substantial income from the book sales. ‘The diary of Anne Frank’ has proven to be a cash cow. The Dutch foundation can have no complaints either financially – the number of entry tickets sold for the Achterhuis makes sure of that. Both organisations spend their profits on educational projects.
But there is more to this than meets the eye. It is almost unbearable for the Stichting as the possessor of the actual diary – under lock and key in Amsterdam – that it cannot show its contents to the public. Or to a film crew for Dutch television, for that matter. The reason: the Anne Frank Fonds alone decides on any reproduction, which extends even to filming pages from the copyrighted work. The Fonds has always maintained firm control of its rights.
The two organisations have frequently been at odds, in a sense denying the other what they want for themselves.
Recently, they fought a court battle over a graphic biography depicting the life of Anne Frank (the documentary will reveal what court). The Stichting had worked with a publishing house on this book with the aim of reaching new audiences for the story. The Fonds, asked for its permission, declined to give its consent. Officially, the court case that followed was about the unlawful reproduction of excerpts from the diary.
Unofficially, it was about how to tell the story of Anne Frank. The Fonds holds on to its version of the story and guards it through its control of the diary text. The Stichting holds itself equally entitled to the legacy and feels cut off.
So the copyrights are not only important for revenues, they are also a way to control the story of Anne Frank.
This is why it is such an important occurrence that the copyrights to the original diary texts are nearing expiration. As of January 1, 2016 anyone can put the original diary online, or use phrases for a graphic biography, film pages for television, or publish a quality facsimile. The legacy of Anne Frank is about to enter the next phase.