Who do you contact for reprint permission when author[s] are deceased?

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  • I am a genealogist and a member of a surname group on Facebook.  About 30 years ago a deinitive family history of our surname was published by a now-defunct publishing company.  The book was copyrighted and contains that info on the verso of the title page so the publication is definitely protected by copyright.  It is available on interlibrary loan from a few libraries with genealogical collections.  The only copies to be had are resales on ebay  or rare book sites; I have a personal copy. Many of the people in our group are new to family history research and would really like to have a copy of this book. 

    My question - who do we contact to get permission to reprint?  Is a copyrighted item part of an estate; both authers have passed away. The senior author [who began the history] and his wife are dead and there are no living descendants.  The person who finished the publication when the senior author died has some living descendants.  There is enough interest among our group to support paying for a limited number of reprints given the interest that is exhibited.  I am assuming a legal document would need to be executed for the reprinting.  Thanks, judy knight

  • You are correct that you would need permission from one of the copyright holders to reprint the work. Figuring out who that is in this case may be difficult. First you need to determine if the publisher or the authors were the copyright holder. The authors may have signed away their copyright to the publisher. If the publisher was the copyright holder, even though the publisher is now defunct the copyright may or may not have reverted to the authors. There may have been some sort of reversion clause in their contracts that allowed for that, but if not then the copyright would have been sold as part of the assets of the company when it went out of business. You would need to figure out who bought those assets. 

    If the copyright is in fact owned by the authors either because they never signed it away to the publisher or because the rights reverted back to them when the publisher went out of business then with both of the authors dead the rights would as you suspected have passed on with their estates. Based on what you said it sounds like it may be a work of joint authorship in which case with both of the original authors would have had rights to pass on. This could have been done to a specific heir via a will, but if not then it would have been passed down to their heirs who may or may not realize that they are now the copyright owners for the work. Heirs don't need to be direct descendents. If there are no children it may be the case that the copyright has passed on to another living relative. If it is a work of joint authorship you would only need to get permission from one of the heirs. They would however be required to share equally with all the heirs any money that may be made as part of the agreement. 

  • I'll second the information dwhren has shared here. While you're working to dientify potential rightsholders, please enncourage your group members to try obtaining copies of the work through their library's Interlibrary Loan service!

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