Jefferson, TX asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Texas

Q: A man writes a diary in 1947. He doesn't publish it or register it for copyright. Is it under copyright today?

After his death 10 years later in 1957, the diary is discovered in his home. It was not mentioned in his will, nor had he assigned the rights to the work to anyone. Is the diary under copyright protection in 2024? Thanks!

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

A: The author of the diary was owner of the copyright without regard for whether it was published or registered, and the copyright is owned after his death by his heirs, who may register and publish it if they wish. The copyright remains valid for the life of the author plus 50 years.

James L. Arrasmith
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A: The copyright status of works like diaries can be complex, particularly when they are unpublished and the author has passed away. In general, for works created but not published or registered before 1978, copyright typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Since the diary was written in 1947 and the author passed away in 1957, by these standards, the copyright would extend until 2027.

However, because the diary was never published, and considering the date of the author's death, there might be specific conditions based on local laws that could affect its status. If the work was not explicitly left to someone in a will, it may fall to the author's heirs under common copyright laws. They would hold the copyright until it expires, which, according to the basic calculation, would not be until 2027.

In your case, assuming no other laws apply specifically to this situation, the diary would indeed be under copyright protection in 2024. If you or someone else is interested in publishing or using the diary, it would be advisable to seek permission from the author's heirs or estate. Failure to do so could result in copyright infringement.

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