What Happens to My Copyrights When I Die?

Elliott Stapleton Copyright

When an individual dies, their assets are distributed to family members, friends, charities, or other beneficiaries designated in a Will or Trust, or to heirs, as determined by state intestacy laws.  These assets generally include personal property such as furniture, jewelry, and fine china.

What about intangible property, such as Copyrights?

Copyrights, while considered intangible property, are also personal property. Therefore, Copyrights pass the same way as tangible property – they are distributed to the deceased individual’s heirs or a third-party beneficiary. The beneficiaries or heirs will inherit the ownership rights to the decedent’s federal Copyright registrations.

If an individual has a Trust in place, during his or her life he or she may choose to transfer the Copyright Registration to the Trust. Transfers by assignment must comply with federal Copyright Laws and should be recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office.

An owner of a Copyright registration may choose to transfer ownership of the Copyright during his or her life. This transfer must be documented in writing, as required under federal Copyright laws. A Copyright transfer will generally remain valid and enforceable after the death of the transferring (previous) owner.

What if the Copyright owner did not have any heirs upon his death and did not have a Last Will and Testament?

Upon the death of a Copyright owner, the work does not automatically fall into the public domain. Instead, the Copyright protection will continue to the extent permitted by law (works published between 1923-1977 are protected for 95 years and protection in works created after 1978 lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years).


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About the Author

Elliott Stapleton

Elliott is a partner in the firm of Cornetet, Meyer, Rush and Stapleton serving clients throughout Ohio. Elliott's business clients range from small single member companies to large privately-held businesses. CMRS Law provides legal services which include advice on Business Formation and Transactions, Real Estate Transactions, Trademark Law, Copyright Law, Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Probate Administration, and Succession Planning. CMRS Law serves clients at two locations: 123 Boggs Lane, 1st Floor, Cincinnati, Ohio 45246 and 2101 Grandin Road, Suite A, Cincinnati, OH 45208