Who Will Own the Copyright?

I am neither a lawyer nor the son of a lawyer (though I am the father of a lawyer). So I am legally unqualified to give you any advice about anything (enough for the disclaimer). But I get asked questions.

An interesting one came up recently. An author wanted to make sure that royalties would be handled properly after her death and wondered what would be the best way to do that.

I told her that most book contracts include a standard provision for the publisher to pay out royalties according to the author’s will. So all that most publishers would need is a copy of the final will or a letter to that effect from the heir or executor.

Then I asked a question: “Who will hold the copyright after you die?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “what if your books go out of print after you die? Maybe another publisher will want to pick up the rights and republish. Who would the new publisher write the contract with? Who would own the material?”

“Oh,” she said, “I see. That’s how all those books get caught in publishing limbo that Google wants to put online.”

Exactly. So, having a will is always a good thing. Just as we’d want to make sure it is clear who owns our other property after we are gone, authors may want to make sure that a will provides clearly for who will own the copyrights to their works.