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Thread: Posthumous copyright?

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    Posthumous copyright?

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    A few months before my father-in-law passed away he taught me a few bars of a very pretty song he had been writing on his guitar. After he died, I added a few more bars of music in order to complete it, and then I recorded the finished work as an instrumental. (I believe he had been working on lyrics, but there's no record of them.)

    Now I'd like to present his widow with a copy of the piece, and I'd like to copywrite it in either his or her name. Is that possible? Does anyone know if one person can register a copyright for someone else? And if so, can you do it even if the original composer is dead? Could his widow register the copyright if I gave her the form?

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    Let me forward this to a friend who deals with copyrights all the time. I'll get back to you.
    Newest endeavor: Playing drums in a live band version of 7 Door Sedan's music.
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    Here's her reply:

    The question is a good and tough one. I think your friend can copyright the song and list the “claimant” as he/she wishes. The people who can help the most with this question are the folks at the US Copyright Office… www.loc.gov/copyright

    It seems to me a very thoughtful and generous gesture.
    Newest endeavor: Playing drums in a live band version of 7 Door Sedan's music.
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    Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can put any name you want on a copyright. (In my experience, the U.S. Copyright Office only cares if they think you've left some names off.)

    However, I would think that as next of kin, you or your dad's widow will become the actual copyright holder in the end.

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    Very nice gesture, but I think you need to slow down a little.

    You completed the work. You also codified it- it was nothing more than thoughts and sounds before you wrote it down. I would think you qualify as co-writer. You should register it as written by "X and Y," X being your father-in-law, and Y being you.

    Your Father-in-Law's widow, being at least thrice removed from you (1- in-laws. 2- FIL is dead. 3- she is not your wife's mother- right?) can easily cut you out of any royalities. Let's be realistic, here- if the song should happen to "hit," and hit big, money makes people do strange things. By copyrighting it as co-written, you have done three good things:

    1. Made as good a gesture to her,
    2. Provided her with a reminder of what a great guy you are (which serves you well, regardless)
    3. Protected your rights.

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    Quote Originally Posted by VomitHatSteve View Post
    Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can put any name you want on a copyright.
    Yes, from what little I've found (and understood) from the govt website, MadAudio is correct that I can probably copyright the tune myself and list my mother-in-law as the claimant.

    However, I would think that as next of kin, you or your dad's widow will become the actual copyright holder in the end.
    That would certainly be true if my father-in-law had written or recorded the song before he died, but since I am the first one to create a tangible version of the piece, I think the copyright is technically mine from the get-go. The question is, how can I transfer it to her?

    Quote Originally Posted by stevieb View Post
    I would think you qualify as co-writer. You should register it as written by "X and Y," X being your father-in-law, and Y being you.
    I'm inclined to agree. That's not as chivilrous a gesture as handing the copyright over to my mother-in-law, but I doubt she'd had any problem with it. I don't think my father-in-law would mind, either, but he's not available to ask. It might get me into some trouble with my wife, though. You see, I've already told her about Plan A. Plan B might not seem quite so generous to her as it would have if I had presented it as Plan A. Know what I mean?

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    Certainly you can copyright a song in the name of more than one person. You can also copyright and then assign a claimant.

    As stevieb suggest you could choose to copyright to protect your interest in the song - but, perhaps that misses the original intent. I you intended to gift the song to your mother-in-law as a lasting tribute to her departed spouse - and originally had no intent to claim some rights - then don't get hung-up on possible future royaties.

    Sometimes, people get so concerned about future royalties if a song becomes a "hit". In this case, it may be a cute ditti - but do you plan to shop it to publishers? Does your mother-in-law? There is no hit if there is no active marketing of the song.

    Why cheapen a truly nice gesture by speculating on future riches that are as unlikely as snow in July in Miami?

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    You're not wrong, mikeh, but I still think Plan B is better. Here's why:

    If I hand over the song and the rights to my mother-in-law (Plan A), she'll listen to it a few times, play it for some of her friends here and there, and then put it in her CD rack. It might come out on an anniversary or two, but then that'll be the end of it.

    If, on the other hand, I copyright it as co-author (Plan B), I'll have an incentive to shop it around. On the off chance that anything ever comes of it, my mother-in-law will share in royalties that otherwise wouldn't have existed at all. (It turns out that she didn't even know her husband had been writing a song until my wife told her that I was recording it.) This seems like a win-win proposition to me.

    Another problem with Plan A is that the copyright could become disputed in the event of my mother-in-law's death. She has adult children from another marriage whom I don't even know. If my name's not on the paper, they would have just as much claim as any of the other siblings.

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    personally i would just give the song over and tell your mother in law how it came to be....im sure she doesnt care about true ownership.

    if amazingly enough it sells as as result of marketing ect then this is a problem that can be resolved later.

    but the ball will be in your court since it will be joint names.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HapiCmpur View Post
    You're not wrong, mikeh, but I still think Plan B is better. Here's why:

    If I hand over the song and the rights to my mother-in-law (Plan A), she'll listen to it a few times, play it for some of her friends here and there, and then put it in her CD rack. It might come out on an anniversary or two, but then that'll be the end of it.

    If, on the other hand, I copyright it as co-author (Plan B), I'll have an incentive to shop it around. On the off chance that anything ever comes of it, my mother-in-law will share in royalties that otherwise wouldn't have existed at all. (It turns out that she didn't even know her husband had been writing a song until my wife told her that I was recording it.) This seems like a win-win proposition to me.

    Another problem with Plan A is that the copyright could become disputed in the event of my mother-in-law's death. She has adult children from another marriage whom I don't even know. If my name's not on the paper, they would have just as much claim as any of the other siblings.
    That all makes sense - I understand and agree!

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