Asked in Copyright for California

Q: I own 50% copyright for a biography. I want to write a novel based on that material. What do I pay his heirs?

I wrote from interviews for the purpose of posterity. The person has since died. What is fair compensation to the heirs for use of his story in a book and/or film? (Written on spec.)

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1 Lawyer Answer
Mark B. Saku
Mark B. Saku
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Seattle, WA

A: Fair compensation really depends on what the heirs will charge you for use of the person's "name and likeness" as the subject in your novel/film. Depending on your jurisdiction, the heirs may also have the right to prevent circulation of your novel/film without their express permission.

Copyright law will probably not be involved in this situation unless you were to use specific portions from the original (50% owned) biography. If this is the case, you will need to account to the other half owner for revenues and expenses.

I would consult a local attorney who can reference whether your state has a law recognizing publicity rights, and whether extend to someone's heirs.

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