Can you bequeath the copyright of a written work, and the future royalties from the same written work, to different people?

UPDATED: Jul 1, 2013

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Can you bequeath the copyright of a written work, and the future royalties from the same written work, to different people?

Does it matter if the written work is published or unpublished? Say I die with an unpublished manuscript entitled “XYZ”, and my will bequeaths all my copyrights to my friend Joe. Can my will also state that any royalties earned from the publication of “XYZ” go to my daughter Jane? Or does Joe, as the copyright holder, get all the royalties by default? What if “XYZ” was published before my death? What if I establish a testamentary trust with Jane as the beneficiary and Joe as the trustee? Can a Trust own a copyright?

Asked on July 1, 2013 under Estate Planning, Ohio


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Royalties can be separated from the other elements of copyright, though you may wish to consider: if Joe does not have the right to any royalties, but otherwise has the complete right to control and publish the work, why would he bother doing the work/incurring the costs of publication so that Jane profits?

It does not matter whether the work was published or not published at the time of your death--you can separate the different elements of copyright, including royalties.

A trust can own intellectual property, including copyright.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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