Who Owns Your Copyright

The rise of the digital age and the huge amount of indie authors now working as writers, has opened up a big black pit that no one talks about… Copyright ownership.  A copyright is a 75 year binding contract between an author and their book.  That means for 75 years, they are the only ones that have the right to obtain royalties from it.

Only, most of us aren’t living for 75 years after the start of our copyright.  For instance, I was 32 when I published my first two novels.  Add 75 years to that and I don’t lose the copyright until I’m a 107.  Chances are really good that I’m not going to be around to see it expire.

But copyright isn’t like your house.  You can assign it to someone when you die, but you can’t split it among heirs die unless it first goes into a trust and then the trust doles out specific percentages to each party.  This used to be handled by publishing houses, after all, they hold part of the copyright.  But indies don’t have publishers who will make out checks to their loved ones.  We have Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc. entities that don’t care where the money goes because they get their cut first.

Also, we can keep our digital ebooks alive a very long time after we’re dead.  Usually, an author dies, a publisher waits for the books to stop selling and then slowly pulls them off the shelves and the copyright sits in a basement and dies quietly.  So what happens in the year 2087 when my copyright dies on Dark Cotillion?  That’s just it, nothing.  People can start reprinting the book if they so desire, but it isn’t that popular and it isn’t a classic, so essentially, my heirs will just continue to draw royalties off the ebooks because they will continue to exist without competition despite being in the public domain.

Meaning if someone buys a copy in 2090, they are still probably going to buy the original Dark Cotillion and not one put out by someone else who has written an introduction.  This means my heirs will get the royalties.

But what heirs?  In my case, my nephews, nieces, and great nephews… Maybe a tiger sanctuary, who knows.  The point is, unless I assign all of my copyrights to a specific person, they will have to go into a trust.  But that trust will need to be set up upon my death with a plan for how new royalties get spit out.  And every year I publish a book creates a new copyright end date for my heirs to deal with.

Which brings us to the subject of a copyright will.  I thought my father’s lawyer was pulling my leg when it was first mentioned to me.  They weren’t.  A copyright will ensures that as long as the copyright exists, a trust will be set up with payments going out in specific splits to each heir I have.  And I was cautioned about doling out the entire amount each month.  If I don’t, the trust builds and the heirs of my heirs will be getting money off my copyrights long after I’ve gone and my original heirs have gone.

My copyright will states the following:

A trust will be set up.  If my parents are alive, they each get a certain percentage every month from the trust that does not use the entire royalty amount.  My SO also gets a specific amount each month.  When one of my parents dies, their share gets split between the nephews and nieces.  When both have died, the entire portion of my parents’ percentage belongs to that group of heirs (it’s about 55%).  When my SO passes away, the percentages change dramatically with any great nephews and nieces who are over 18 getting a certain percentage and my nephews and nieces get a larger share among them.  Since the nephews and nieces really aren’t that much younger than I am, I had to include provisions for when they die.  To give you an idea, the executor nephew is only 13 years younger than me.  So when I’m 107, he’ll be 94.  This means a provision had to put on for a new executor to be chosen and for the percentages to change upon the deaths of the nieces and nephews to ensure their heirs get a split.  For example, if they don’t have any children, they can’t leave their percentage to their dogs/cats/buffaloes/tiger sanctuary.  It all has to be redistributed again.  And so on and so on until the end of time or until the end of the trust.

This was done because I could leave all my copyrights to a single nephew or I could split it up so everyone profits upon my death from my copyrights.  Now, I could have assigned specific copyrights to specific nephews/nieces/great nephews/great nieces/SO/parents.  But if one book or series flops or isn’t making any money, that owner would get nothing while the others might still have royalties coming in.  This is especially critical since I offer free ebooks.  The person that owns that copyright can up the price after I’m dead and gone, which could hurt the copyright holders of the other books in that series.  A trust and executor ensures that no single person can break the chain (except the executor and I have more faith in him than that).

Just something to think about the next time you are drafting your will if you write books.

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