Copyright Transfer at Author's Death

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by kilowatt46, Mar 25, 2012.

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  1. kilowatt46

    kilowatt46 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    My first cousin once removed wrote a non-fiction book in 1967, copyrighted it and had 2,000 copies printed. He died in December 2002.

    He left a will, though I'm not sure whether or not the copyright was specifically mentioned in the will.

    The heirs believe they cannot have it reprinted until after 75 years have passed.

    I believe that, if the copyright was mentioned in the will, then whomever he left the copyright to may have the book reprinted at any time, if they so desire.

    And, further, I believe that, if the copyright is not mentioned in the will, the surviving heirs share equally in the ownership of the copyright, and can have the book reprinted at any time, as long as they all agree to the reprinting.

    Who is correct? And, if neither of us is correct, what is correct?

    Thanks.
     
  2. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Does it matter?
    The book printing was 2,000.
    He would have been lucky to sell 1,000.
    His estate owns the copyright.
    But, the copyright has likely expired.
    I suspect anyone that wanted to could reprint the book.
     
  3. kilowatt46

    kilowatt46 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thank you for your prompt reply, army judge.

    Yes, it does matter. He sold all 2,000 copies - it was a book about our family's history and genealogy. The book is still in a very high demand - so much so that used book dealers who get their hands on a copy are asking $400 to $600 dollars for it.

    From what I have read of copyright law, it appears the copyright should be good for 75 years and that it would pass to whomever he elected in his will or to his heirs if it, or a general reference to the copyrights he held, was not mentioned specifically in his will.

    His heirs believe they cannot have it reprinted until 75 years have passed. That is not the way I interpret what I have read. I need to get a legal opinion to send them so they will understand and have it reprinted, so the family members who do not have a copy can purchase one at a reasonable price.

    Thanks again.
     
  4. Michael M. Wechsler

    Michael M. Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    army judge is spot on. US copyright law changed in the 1970s and it is possible that the copyright expired. You should look into this issue - what you may be talking about are works published after 1978. In addition, it would appear that the estate would own the copyright. Control of the copyright might be a difficult issue, which is something that you have to clear before you can publish. If the copyright expired then the book would be within the public domain and anyone should be able to reprint it.
     
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