Did Anne Frank Have a Co-Author?

Nothing stirs up controversy like the prospect of a lucrative copyright coming to an end.  In this case, I'm talking about the book, The Diary of Anne Frank.

The classic work is a Jewish teenage girl's recounting of the days when she and her family tried to evade from the Nazis by hiding in a secret annex of an Amsterdam factory.  The family was eventually captured, and only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived.  He brought the diary to light for the world by having it published.

The copyright in Europe was set to expire as of January 1, 2016.  However, according to a New York Times story, the Swiss foundation that currently holds the copyright is contending that Otto Frank was actually a co-author of the book, which would push the copyright expiration date in Europe to 70 years after his death in 1980.

This raises at least two issues:  First, if Otto Frank was a co-author, then does that call into question previous assertions that the diary was in Anne's own words?  Does that constitute a form of fraud on the buying public?  (Just asking.)  And, second, what does this new claim on the duration of the book's copyright do to those who've been planning various republications next year of what they had thought was about to become a public domain work?

If history is any indication, claims of copyright protection that go beyond what was originally thought to be the expiration date typically wind up in court.  I wouldn't be the least surprised to see this one there.

A Snippet of Legality

If you've been following the legal battle involving the Authors Guild and various other literary plaintiffs versus Google, the victory -- at least so far -- goes to the search engine giant.

The case involved Google's practice of scanning a huge number of copyright protected books that populate public libraries for the purpose of providing a digital copy to both the library and the Google online archives.  The Google archives are then searchable by keyword, and "snippets" (a.k.a. excerpts) of the book are made available to read online.  Authors claimed it constituted copyright infringement.  Google claimed fair use.

In its recent ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, although the digital copies constituted derivative works of the originals (and the creation of derivatives is the sole right of the copyright holder), the digitalized snippets are a transformative use in that they provide information about the book without providing the whole book.

Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman!

I believe I've mentioned in past blog posts that most characters can't be copyrighted unless they possess some very specific and unique traits that distinguish them from all others.  Batman would be one such character.

But what about the Caped Crusader's wheels?  I'm talking about the Batmobile.  Can a non-human, non-living piece of machinery qualify as a character for the purposes of copyright?

Yes, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In a case involving a man who sold unauthorized replica kits allowing people to make their cars look like the Batmobile (either the 1960s TV series version or the 1980s movie version), the Court ruled that the replicas constituted copyright infringement on a "character" that belongs to DC Comics.  According to the ruling, depictions of the Batmobile -- with its many miraculous crime-fighting operations -- make it a character in the stories, even though it's not a thinking character.

The More Things Change...

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It wasn't long ago that the United States declared it was going to try to re-establish diplomatic relations with the long disassociated nation of Cuba.  Why?  Well, fifty years of boycotting didn't bring about the downfall of the communist island country, and one might say there was the perception of a more mellow leadership now that Fidel Castro has stepped down.

But Cuba's government wasn't feeling mellow when it stepped in and shut down performance artist Tania Bruguera as she attempted to stage an artistic demonstration dedicated to free speech.  The piece, called Tatlin?s Whisper #6, was supposed to take place in Havana?s Revolution Square near the end of 2014.  The concept was that Ms. Bruguera would invite members of the public to stand at a podium and express themselves freely for a minute.

The Cuban government detained Ms. Bruguera, confiscated her passport, and has charges pending against her.  If Cuba's feeling a bit more friendly toward America these days, apparently that feeling doesn't fully extend to the sentiments of America's First Amendment.

As a matter of fact, there are more than a few artists who aren't all that sure that America always embraces its constitutional freedom of speech guarantees.  So, in the spirit of solidarity, artists in New York recently restaged Ms. Bruguera's performance work in Times Square.  According to an ArtNews article, the comments in New York focused more on American speech suppressions rather than Cuban.

In This Play, the Writing's on the Wall

What is theater if not an opportunity to raise consciousness and sometime stir up controversy?

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre's young adult program produced a play titled This Is Modern Art (Based on True Events), by Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin.  The "art" to which the title refers is graffiti.

Granted, graffiti isn't everyone's idea of art.  The fact is, there's so much in the way of different styles of art that it's difficult to say any one of them will appeal to everyone on an equal basis.  One man's Picasso is another man's poorly drawn woman.

However, with graffiti we're talking about something that isn't just a matter of artistic taste.  We're also talking about something that's, from a technical standpoint, illegal when, uninvited, it's applied to public and private property.  Some term it street art.  Others call it vandalism.

That's the thing that irked two of Chicago's major newspaper's theater critics, both of whom commented in their reviews that the play romanticized graffiti--something they considered to be not a good message for the Windy City's youth.

According to a story in the Washington Post, within hours the theaters and their youthful supporters were online villifying the critics for their comments about the show's message.  The article further says that, although the show has closed, the controversy continues online.