Friday, April 22, 2011

From the archives: Immortality Guaranteed

(Here's an essay I wrote several years ago for a writers' newsletter or magazine. I'm sorry to say I lost track of exactly when and where it was originally published, but the advice it contains is still pretty solid, so here it goes, represented now for posterity.)


By John R. Platt

Once you hit adulthood, the powers that be start telling you that no matter how little you might own, it’s time to draw up at least a simple will. But for writers, artists and other copyright holders, a simple will just isn’t enough.

The copyrights on our works extend for 75 years after we die, but if we don’t take care of things properly, those copyrights could end up languishing in the hands of the state, or the state could end up deciding who our stories belong to after we die. I think that just about every author out there has some illusion of their works creating an immortality for them, and that won’t happen if you don’t plan ahead for the future distribution of your work.

First things first. Go see a lawyer. The following is not official legal advice, and you can’t do all of this on your own.

What you want to do is appoint a Literary Executor to handle your copyrighted properties in the case of your death. This could be a relative, a friend, an agent, or even a library or university (though they’ll mostly only want the works of “notable” authors, and they’ll want to control all future rights). This person or institution will then have both rights and responsibilities over your intellectual property. You can assign whatever rights you want, and also certain responsibilities. You can even assign multiple executors if you see the need.

Establishing an executor helps to answer several important questions regarding how your works are handled after you die. Do you want a specific relative to own your stories? Do your relatives even want control of your works? Do you want someone to work constantly to keep your works in print? To whom do you want royalties to go? If your executor becomes unable to handle their duties, do you have an alternate?

If you worry that you might approach a time when you would still be alive but unable to properly manage your copyrights, you can also set up a living trust, someone who has the right to take care of your properties until you die, at which time, an executor might take over.

These rights can not be assigned fully in a will, and really, should not be sprung upon the recipient when you die. Make arrangements before-hand if you can. If you want immortality, or at least a few years of being read after you die, you need someone who will look out for you as much when you are gone as when you did when you were alive.

Go do this while you are able. You can always change things every few years as your copyrights change and your associates and family change or die off. But once you die, it’s too late. You might want your stories to live forever, but sorry to say, you won’t.

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