Birmingham, AL asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Alabama

Q: How do I find the copyright holder of a work by a deceased author?

Years ago I wrote a screenplay based on a self-published novel by a friend of mine, with her permission and minor collaboration. The lady has since passed away. Her heir says that the lady willed her copyrights to someone else but she does not know whom. Records still list the original author as the claimant. How can I find this mystery copyright holder (or do I need to)?

2 Lawyer Answers
Fritz-Howard Raymond Clapp
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  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Beverly Hills, CA

A: It is not essential that you identify the current owner of the copyright in the novel, but if you desired to do so, the best resource would be the probate records for the novelist's estate and/or a copy of the will. Your screenplay is an original work of your own authorship, with the permission and collaboration of the novelist, thus it does not infringe the copyright in the novel. Although not legally required, it would be prudent and considerate to acknowledge credit to the novelist.

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James L. Arrasmith
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A: To identify the current copyright holder, you can start by checking the U.S. Copyright Office records, as any transfers of copyright should ideally be recorded there. Additionally, reviewing the deceased author's will or probate records might provide clarity on the transfer of copyright. It's crucial to determine the copyright holder before proceeding with any use of the work to avoid potential legal implications.

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