Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Inheriting a Copyright

Dear Rich: My father recently passed away. He was the author of a "how to" book that he self-published and also was published by Scribner's back in the '70s and '80s. The copyright was renewed in 1999 because the initial copyright was in 1971. My sisters and I are his heirs. Do we also inherit that copyright and, if so, is there anything we need to do at this time? We may be interested in further publication at some point. The short answers to your questions are: (1) yes, you and your sisters probably own the copyright, and (2) if you want to document the transfer, you should record your documentation at the U.S. Copyright Office as explained in this helpful circular (PDF). You will need to prepare a document cover sheet (PDF). A copyright -- though it is intangible property -- is generally treated like traditional tangible property for estate planning purposes. So, if you and your sisters are the heirs, the copyright would be part of the estate and pass to you. We're assuming two things: that the copyright was not specifically mentioned in the will as a bequest to a third party; and your father did not make an agreement with a third party to transfer ownership of the copyright outside the will. (According to the Dear Rich staff, if there wasn't a will, you and your sisters would likely still inherit the copyright, but it depends on your state's intestate rules.) By the way, if readers are seeking information how to best leave a copyright as an inheritance, check out this nice article (and accompanying PDF) from ASCAP.