Guest Post: Can Copyrights Be Inherited?

By Josh T.

In the United States, a writer’s work is automatically copyrighted under their ownership once it’s in consumable form. The copyright lasts as long as the writer is alive and 70 years after their death whether it’s published or not, which is more than enough to establish someone’s claim to a work. What happens with a writer’s intellectual property after they’re gone, however, can be out of their control. A simple way to be certain your copyrights stay in the right hands, at least for a time, is to pass them on to a chosen heir. How are they inherited, however?

Wills and Trusts

The simplest way to ensure your copyright is inherited is to establish an inheritor in a will or trust. You can either consult estate planning lawyers or draft an estate plan yourself, but you’ll want to leave a specific provision in the plan to leave all your intellectual and copyrighted properties to a chosen recipient. State exactly who is supposed to receive these rights, because if the will doesn’t establish this, your intellectual property may go to whoever receives the unmentioned remainder of what you leave behind.

Clarity Is Necessary

Besides leaving your inheritor with any publishing and contact information they’ll need, you should be absolutely certain that the inheritor has their rights and ownership documented. If you intend for the copyright recipient to make publishing decisions for your work once you’ve passed, it’s good to include this in the will or trust. While this is often taken as understood in many U.S. states, it doesn’t hurt to have it in no uncertain terms. In the case of coauthors or multiple intended heirs, it could mean the difference between a peaceful bequeathing and seriously muddled inheritance issues.

Your Family and Your Legacy

Copyrights can be inherited because intellectual property is treated the same as any other property in the eyes of the law, but your IPs may still end up with an undesired owner if you don’t prepare. A good family trust attorney can help you through the technical language and tricky workings of the federal system, but when it comes to your property, you have the final word on what happens to it.

Writing is a process of giving life to your ideas. It is an inherently creative act. When you get done, that’s your baby that ends up on the shelf! Copyrights were created to incentivize content creators and thought leaders to continue sharing the power of their ideas. It’s important to know the manner and the extent to which you can maintain creative and legal control of your work.


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