Wikimedia Takes Down Diary Of Anne Frank, Uses It To Highlight Idiocy Of DMCA Rules, Copyright Terms
from the what-a-mess dept
We’ve written a few times about the copyright status of the Diary of Anne Frank lately, mainly because it’s pretty clear that the original work was supposed to enter the public domain in Europe on January 1st of this year, as it was 70 years after Frank’s tragic death. However, the copyright holder, The Anne Frank Fonds organization in Switzerland has been trying to claim that the work is still under copyright, and that Anne’s father, Otto Frank, is a co-author of the work. Either way, the work is not in the public domain in the US, because the US (ridiculously) grants copyrights for an even longer term than Europe.
The latest is that the Wikimedia Foundation has announced that it has removed a Dutch-language version of the text — and used the removal as a chance to highlight some of the ridiculousness of the DMCA:
We took this action to comply with the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as we believe the diary is still under US copyright protection under the law as it is currently written. Nevertheless, our removal serves as an excellent example of why the law should be changed to prevent repeated extensions of copyright terms, an issue that has plagued our communities for years.
Specifically, Wikimedia notes that, as a US company, it’s under the jurisdiction of US law, and the DMCA includes a provision on “red flag” knowledge, that says if you are aware of infringing material, and you do not take it down, you may be liable. Thus, it removed it, even though it did not receive a specific DMCA takedown notice.
Based on email discussions sent to the Wikimedia Foundation at legal[at]wikimedia.org, we determined that the Wikimedia Foundation had either “actual knowledge” (i in the statute quoted below) or what is commonly called “red flag knowledge” (ii in the statute quoted below) that the Anne Frank text was hosted on Wikisource and was under copyright. The statute section states that a service provider is only protected by the DMCA when it:
(i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing;
(ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or
(The rest applies when we get a proper DMCA takedown notice.)
Of particular concern, the US? 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated in their ruling for UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners LLC that in circumstances where a hosting provider (like the Wikimedia Foundation) is informed by a third party (like an unrelated user) about infringing copyrighted content, that would likely constitute either actual or red flag knowledge under the DMCA.
We believe, based on the detail and specificity contained in the emails, that we received that we had actual knowledge sufficient for the DMCA to require us to perform a takedown even in the absence of a demand letter.
There is, admittedly, a fair bit of controversy over the whole “red flag knowledge” concept, with different courts ruling different ways. However, you can understand why Wikimedia might not want to take the risk when there’s a very real chance a ruling could come down against them. Even if you disagree with the appropriateness of the whole “red flag knowledge” concept or its application here, you have to respect Wikimedia’s decision not to set itself up to be a sacrificial lamb in a case that it could very well lose.
However, it does give Wikimedia a chance to rail against ridiculous copyright term extensions, especially those that are retroactively applied or which are used on foreign works that should be in the public domain:
However, in the United States, the Anne Frank original text will be under copyright until 2042. This is the result of several factors coming together, and the English-language Wikipedia has actually covered this issue with a multi-part test on its non-US copyrights content guideline.
In short, there are three major laws that together make the diary still copyrighted:
- In general, the U.S. copyright for works published before 1978 is 95 years from date of publication. This came about because copyrights in the U.S. were originally for 28 years, with the ability to then extend that for a second 28 years (making a total of 56). Starting with the 1976 Copyright Act and extending to several more acts, the renewal became automatic and was extended. Today, the total term of works published before 1978 is 95 years from date of publication.
- Foreign works of countries that are treaty partners to the United States are covered as if they were US works.
- Even if a country was not a treaty partner under copyright law at the time of a publication, the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) restored copyright to works that:
- had been published in a foreign country
- were still under copyright in that country in 1996
- and would have had U.S. copyright but for the fact they were published abroad.
Court challenges to the URAA have all failed, with the most notable (Golan v. Holder) resulting in a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the URAA.
What that means for Anne Frank?s diary is unfortunately simple: no matter how it wound up in the United States and regardless of what formal copyright notices they used, the US grants it copyright until the year 2042, or 95 years after its original publication in 1947.
Under current copyright law, this remains true regardless of its copyright status anywhere else in the world and regardless of whether it may have been in the public domain in the United States in the past.
It’s unfortunate that this is what the law is and that the chilling effects this has is hiding away an important piece of cultural history. But, at the very least, let it be yet another reminder that copyright reform requires a major change to copyright terms, and retroactive expansion of copyright terms is a concept that should never have been allowed.