Sunday, January 08, 2012

Why Bequeathing Your Intellectual Property is Crucial

Recently, I came across a couple of interesting articles on the WritersWeekly website owned by Angela Hoy ( If you have a chance, you should subscribe to her weekly newsletter. It’s full of good information.

Two of her articles that really struck me were about the copyright of a deceased author’s work. As Angela points out, it is absolutely wrong to assume that the work a deceased writer, even that of a close friend or relative, can be used by you, unless this has been clearly stipulated in their will. Verbal intent is not enough! Angela, who also publishes books through her company, booklocker, gives an example of a writer coauthoring a book with someone who died. Legally, the family of the deceased could halt the project, unless the rights to that work had been bequeathed to the coauthor in the will. You can read the whole article here,

Angela explores this issue further in another article, where she’s had the relatives of a deceased writer, whose work she’s published, fight in court for the right to acquire royalties and copyright to the deceased’s books. She’s also been approached by relatives of a deceased writer who try to claim royalties and rights, when in fact, the legal beneficiary was actually someone else. Angela now puts a beneficiary clause into her contracts, to prevent from becoming embroiled in court battles.

With the prevalence of ebooks and unlimited shelf life, a deceased author’s work can go on selling long after his or her death, so the question is, who do you want to bequest your intellectual property to? Every writer needs to address this issue, published or not. Those of you who have a drawer full of unpublished work could have a relative wanting to put them on the market after you’re gone, so they can collect royalties. Angela’s article about relatives going after a deceased writers’ work and royalties is filled with examples that will make your head spin. You can check it out at

The whole issue of who owns rights to books, and in particular ebooks, is a hot topic these days. Old contracts are being scrutinized and family members of deceased authors are looking to cash in on their relative’s earlier print books by turning them into ebooks. The New York Times wrote an interesting piece about the case of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, among others. My Styron’s family is claiming that they have the ebook rights to his work, however his longtime publisher, Random House, is claiming that they have the rights, which they have no intention of giving up. These types of legal battles are now being played out all over the country as the relatives of famous writers from bygone eras now want to cash in on the ebook revolution, as do their publishers. To read more, go to

The moral of all this is that you must pay careful attention to your contracts, and you must make it clear to whom you intend to bequeath your work to. If you don’t, things could get messy and costly for your family.

THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, now available for iphones, iPads, and iPodTouch at Also available in paperback and Kindle at


Marian Allen said...

Good advice! The next time we update our wills, I'll be sure to include this!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Pat Bertram said...

I used to have my publisher put a beneficiary clause in my contracts, but my beneficiary died, and now I have no idea who to leave the rights to. Don't know who would care. Of course, if I ever became a bestselling author, that would change.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks to Marian and Pat for your comments. That's the thing, Pat. If your work did become wellknown, it's possible that a distant relative would try to claim rights to royalties. Maybe you can bequeath future royalties to a charity. I'm sure a lawyer can tell you the ins and outs.