UPDATE: Hear my interview on CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” about this story.
April 26th was World Intellectual Property Day, a day set aside to honour and celebrate culture and those who create it. Books, music, film, visual art, software — products of the mind that require skill, original thought, talent and hard, hard work to bring them into the world for the benefit of us all. We celebrate these things and the laws that protect them (like copyright) on IP Day.
Naturally, folks who don’t much respect all that hard work and talent take the opportunity of World IP Day to aim their cheapest of cheap shots at copyright law. As I was scrolling through the #WorldIPDay hashtag on Twitter, I saw a lot of folks celebrating the world’s creativity and professional creators, but I also ran across this little gem:
Julia Reda is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing the German Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Deutschland), one of… well, one Pirates elected out of Germany’s 96 Parliamentarians in a body of 751 members altogether. In the tweet above, she is complaining that on World IP Day she couldn’t read The Diary of Anne Frank for free because, you know, copyright wouldn’t let her (she works in Belgium where the book still enjoys some protections, while in some other countries, like Poland, it does not). She doesn’t say “for free” but that can only be what she means.
Because of course Julia Reda, like any well-paid member of the European Parliament, can read The Diary of Anne Frank any time she wants. All she has to do is go to a book store and pay for a copy of it. Or borrow it from the library. Or ask a friend to lend her a copy.
I initially felt so bad for Ms. Reda that I offered to send her a copy of the book myself, one I would pay for out of my own pocket and mail across the ocean. That’s just how strongly I feel about people reading this historically and culturally necessary text. No-one should have to remain in self-imposed ignorance about one of the world’s most important — and most available and accessible — books. A person certainly should not be shut out of this text just because she may be too stubborn, too cheap, or too ideologically inflexible to fork over a few Euros to get it. Petty, I want it for free consumerism should never get in the way of learning about the unending quest for humanity in a world gone mad.
Also, while I love buying books, I feel extra good buying copies of this particular book because I know the copyright is (for the time being) owned by a foundation that uses sales revenues from the book for all sorts of excellent charitable causes, many related to the Holocaust, including a fund to guarantee basic medical care for people who risked their own lives to save Jewish lives during WWII. See the full list of charitable causes supported by sales of the Diary here.
How did Ms. Reda respond to my generous offer?
She didn’t. She blocked my Twitter account. Then she had a self-described “minion” attempt to explain the evils of copyright to me. Then a different communications staffer took over with a stream of passive-aggressive insults and dismissals, including the suggestion that the cultural industries are “bent on ignoring/negating/criminalizing all progress of the last 30 years.” He also took a cheap shot at my age, saying “young people” understand the Pirate Party “intuitively,” before he dismissed me as a troll. Finally, a third Reda assistant also came at me (the Pirates seem to have a lot of money for damage-control staff, yet none for creative works) to suggest, weirdly, that I think Shakespeare should only be available in book form. Frankly, I don’t even know what that means. The Shakespeare I know is quite often available in live performance form, and I quite enjoy paying for that as well.
Let me just repeat the essential facts of this situation, because I’m having a hard time believing them myself. A German Pirate politician thought it was a good idea to demand free access to The Diary of Anne Frank, which would have the effect of denying the Anne Frank Foundation revenue it uses for holocaust-related charitable causes in memory of Anne Frank.
I note that Anne Frank herself would be in her late 80s today, but I guess that’s neither here nor there to the Pirates. Of course, the reason Anne Frank’s Diary is out of copyright at all, in any country, is because young Anne was killed in 1945. Had that not happened, her beautiful, gut-wrenching work would remain under copyright protection until her death by natural causes, and then another 70 years at least.
I honestly don’t believe there’s anything sinister going on with the German Pirate Party and the memory of Anne Frank, beyond piracy itself (which is bad enough). I just think their anti-copyright zealotry has made them utterly tone-deaf to the horrendously insulting and offensive effect of choosing this particular work as the focus of their whining. Never mind that creator copyright is the foundation of a modest economy that is the very backbone of our shared culture, and that piracy (also here and here) and disingenuous anti-copyright lobbying are responsible for damaging segments of that economy, sometimes severely. The thing to really focus on here, I think, is that the $9.44 CDN I spent on the book this morning will help excellent charitable causes. If ever there was a book that should be bought over and over again, in large numbers, forever, it is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
So, today the book goes in the mail. I hope you learn something from it, Ms. Reda.
John Degen is a novelist and poet. He is Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, an organization representing more than 2,000 professional authors in Canada. He is also Chair of the International Authors Forum, which represents over 600,000 professional authors worldwide. Reach him on Twitter @jkdegen
Read John Degen’s most popular Medium article: 5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright The Media Should Stop Repeating.