What happens to a copyright when the copyright holder dies?
A copyrighted work does not become public domain when its owner dies. The length of time a work is protected by copyright depends on when the work was made/published as well as when the author dies. In modern US copyright law, for works made by individuals (not works made by corporations), works are protected for the author’s entire life plus 70 years.
When an author dies, the ownership of the copyright changes. Copyright is personal property, so the person who created the work could choose whom to pass the ownership of the copyright to. Copyright is treated no differently than other property. So ownership in a copyright can be passed to an heir or to a third party via a will.
This makes sense because the law tries to treat a Copyright just like any other asset or property as much as it can. If someone transfers his copyright through a license or an assignment, that agreement will generally still be enforceable even after death. This is a change to typical rules of contracting, particularly for services, where agreements are discharged by death
However, it’s possible that heirs to the author may have a right to regain ownership of transferred copyrights under certain circumstances
If you have questions about who inherited the copyright in a work after the author’s death, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.