14 November 2015

Planetary Copyright

Here’s an interesting wrinkle about international copyright protections:
The classic novella “The Little Prince” fell into the public domain this year in much of the world but remains under copyright in France because of an exception that grants a 30-year extension to authors who died during military service in World War I and II.
There’s a logic to that provision, I suppose. If a society bases copyright terms on an author’s life, but an author dies before his or her time while fighting for the society, then the society extends the copyright term to about what it would otherwise have been. Still, I wonder what specific cases gave rise to this exception.

That passage comes from a New York Times story on a dispute over the copyright of Anne Frank’s diary as originally published. That copyright is the main asset of a foundation, which wishes to extend its term by calling Anne’s father a coauthor of the text. Other institutions, hoping to make the diary more widely accessible and/or mindful of Holocaust deniers’ claims that Otto Frank invented the story to begin with, are resisting that move.

By the logic of the French law, the term of Anne Frank’s copyright could be extended based on what her natural lifespan would have been—meaning even longer protection than basing the term on her father’s lifespan. Of course, few countries follow France’s example.

Meanwhile, the foundation already authorized the editing and publication of a more complete version of Anne Frank’s diary, which has its own copyright term based on the life of the scholarly editor.

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