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Copyright and Death….What Happens to the copyright when the copyright owner dies? 

A copyright does not become public domain once the author dies. The term of the copyright depends on whether the copyright was published and the date of first publication. For works created after January 1, 1978 copyright protection last for the life of the author plus 70 year. So, what happens after the death of the author? 

Who owns the Copyright? 

Copyrights are treated as intangible asset that can be transferred upon death. The author has usually spent a great amount of time creating the work and adding value to what was created. Once the author dies it must be determined who has ownership of the copyright. Ownership can be created through creation, assignment, work for hire, or employment. If the work is a “work for hire” then the employer is considered the author and owner of the work. 17 U.S.C. § 101.  

Copyright Passes By Will or Intestate Succession

Once ownership of the copyright is established then it will need to be determined whether it was included in the deceased’s will or will it pass through intestate succession.  If the copyright is passed by a will it is treated no differently than any other personal property passing to an heir or third party as stated in the will. However, if there is no will then the copyright will pass through your state’s intestate succession laws. Arizona’s intestate succession goes to the living spouse and then the following per A.R.S. 14-2103 

“Any part of the intestate estate not passing to the decedent’s surviving spouse under section 14-2102 or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse passes in the following order to the following persons who survive the decedent:

1. To the decedent’s descendants by representation.

2. If there is no surviving descendant, to the decedent’s parents equally if both survive or to the surviving parent.

3. If there is no surviving descendant or parent, to the descendants of the decedent’s parents or either of them by representation.

4. If there is no surviving descendant, parent or descendant of a parent, but the decedent is survived by one or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, half of the estate passes to the decedent’s paternal grandparents equally if both survive or to the surviving paternal grandparent or the descendants of the decedent’s paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased with the descendants taking by representation. The other half passes to the decedent’s maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to the decedent’s relatives on the other side in the same manner as the half.”

If you have any questions about the above, please do not hesitate to contact us 480.360.7414. We at Accelerate IP are here to help.