Copyright can be inherited and passed onto heirs just like other assets and property. For example, the copyright in books, plays, music, photographs, speeches and other original, copyrighted and copyrightable materials may be bequeathed by will or pass at the death of the copyright owner as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession. (Copyright does extend beyond the death of the author, photographer, playwright or creator of the work for a limited term – often life of the author plus 70 years).
As per a recent article in The New York Times, a court battle over the copyright to the recently discovered photographs taken by the deceased photographer Vivian Maier has begun. Evidently, the young entrepreneur who has begun promoting, printing, displaying and using Vivian Maier’s photographs (after purchasing boxes of Vivian Maier’s negatives at auction) may not have tracked down, gotten permission from and paid the appropriate heir/s of Vivian Maier. Who is Vivian Maier’s closest living relative? This question will be key to the litigation.
This scenario of determining who the closest living relative is to a deceased creator (whose creative work was secret or unknown during their lifetime) may become more common now that the internet can be used as a fast and easy way to disseminate creative content and generate an online following and market for previously unknown works.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
See also: The New York Times article titled, The Heir’s Not Apparent, by Randy Kennedy on 9/6/2014; U.S. Copyright Office Circular 12 titled, Recordation of Transfers and other Documents at http://copyright.gov/circs/circ12.pdf; U.S. Copyright Office Circular 15a titled, Duration of Copyright at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.