Why Should Heirs Control How Content Is Used?

from the it's-a-good-question dept

Just a week after the NY Times ran a poorly thought-out opinion piece suggesting that copyright should be infinite, we find in the NY Times a pretty good example of some of the ridiculous situations caused by heirs owning the copyrights to works they had no hand in creating. That ownership subsequently gives the heirs artistic control over new productions and interpretations of the works, allowing them the power to demand changes to derivative works, or even forbid them. A rather successful play in France is being shut down, after the brother of playwright demanded it be stopped because one of the actors wasn’t Algerian (for an Algerian character). The article explores this quirk of copyright law, and questions why someone who really has nothing to do with an artistic work should be allowed to make such demands at all. It’s one thing to make the claim that heirs deserve compensation, but to then give them artistic control over derivative works of a work they had nothing to do with seems to go against the entire reason of copyright law.


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Comments on “Why Should Heirs Control How Content Is Used?”

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36 Comments
Mike says:

Why give heirs anything?

I do not understand the reasoning behind why heirs should be able to reap the rewards of something they had no hand in creating. If it’s about money, the creator of said work should have saved up what he or she earned during their lifetime to give the kids a big fat inheritance. The inheritors should innovate in their own ways to make money, not live on the work of others.

Also, the way copyright laws are made today is just plain silly, the amount of time that has to pass before others can build on the works of an author without permission is way too long. Should be 10 years max, and there should be different rules for different kinds of works. Stallman has some ideas about this that are interesting.

Dr. Don Blake says:

creative heirs

Bemmelman, who created the Madeline children’s books, once said he was only inspired to write another book every time his checkbook got low. He did it to support his family he had noted. Now, his family has turned the property into cartoons, movies, toys etc. I think that is the way it should be. He clearly had expressed that he created stuff to support his family, and I’m sure it would be nice to know that your creations can support your family long after your death and who better than your own blood line to have the right to say how the legacy is percieved down the line?

mark says:

Re: creative heirs

But is it in the public interest to keep rewarding people who do not create? I can understand the desire to leave something to ones’ heirs but how long must society pay? You know, if you work for a corporation as an employee, your work may be some of the most creative around yet your heirs don’t get paychecks after you die. But if we’re going down this road, why not? Is a plumber not creative? If so, why don’t his heirs have rights to your pipes? If not, why not? Why is one considered creative and the other not?

Shun says:

Re: creative heirs

This is probably the best argument I have heard for the reduction in the scope and time period for copyright. Here is the gist : I am a writer. I produce to put food on the table. Every time I need to pay the rent, bills, etc. I produce another story. So far, so good. Now I die. At this point, what rights do my heirs have to my works?

Now, as a normal working human being, I would have to say “the same as everyone else.” Why? Because the written works of anyone should be the property of all. I know, this is not how it works currently. But like mark says in #12, why shouldn’t the plumber’s heirs have rights to the works of the plumber?

Here’s one for you : if I plant a tree, do my heirs have the rights to all the “fruits” of the tree, including increased property values? Can we charge rent for additional shade? I hope you see the absurdity of this. And a tree is probably the most creative work of all, since it constantly changes and produces “stuff” all the time (dead leaves, falling branches, twigs, etc.).

To the heirs of Mr. Bemmelman : kindly go out and get a job. You have your father’s name to draw on for contacts. Heck, you can even make derivative works of your father’s books. But should you be the only ones to have those rights? Why? What if I can make a better movie/video game/cartoon series? Why should you get the profits? The whole point of patents/copyright/intellectual property is to promote the sciences and useful arts, right? How does one family holding all the rights do that? Please publish a book about how your holding all the cards makes the world a better place. I’m sure you will have lots of readers.

Maybe I’ll buy it, instead of ripping it off bit-torrent.

Overcast says:

You all are in violation of my copyright rights, as I have copy written the English language. Cease and Desist letters will be forthcoming.

The lawyer, of course, has my permission to use the language for the express purposes of the cease and desist orders only.

He was actually in violation himself when he answered the phone!!

Sad thing is – the above sarcasm makes more sense than some of the other copyrights/patents I’ve seen lately.

Stephen says:

publishing heirs

In my experience as a book editor there is no creature more rapacious than the literary heir, who seeks to suck continually at the dead tit of their artist relative. Here’s the most egregious example:

For a time I was the editor of record for Catherine Marshall’s books. She had died years before, and her estate was being managed by her second husband Len Lesourd, a good man who was also the editor of the magazine Guideposts. We renewed the licenses to several of her books and republished them at the time the TV show “Christy” made Mashall’s book a bestseller again. They other books didn’t sell as well, but they had a steady, solid rate of sale, just what we’d hoped.

Then things got weird. Lesourd’s children confronted us about the royalty rates we were paying him, accusing us of taking advantage of him in his supposed dotage. They were prepared to have him declared legally incompetent, which he wasn’t in my opinion from having dealt with him, so they could get control of the books. If that weren’t appalling enough, need I mention that they, being Lesourd’s children from his first marriage, had never even met Catherine Marshall? A disgusting crew whose attitude went against everything Marshall and Lesourd stood for.

angry dude says:

Think more, write less, Mike

Mike, you just dont’ think enough about topics you write about, whether it’s copyrights or patents

Any property right must be legally inherited by your heirs, according to your will, in case you die.
It can be your house, your patent or the copyright to the novel you wrote..
If this were not the case you would see a lot of artists and inventors dying in their prime for some unknown cause…
Not to say that heirs can’t do this type of thing to you to inherit your property, but this is very rare…

So, Mike, if you want us, creative artists and inventors, all killed by the mobsters then go fight for “copyrights and patents expire when the original creator dies” law.
You don’t have to worry about yourself though – there is nothing creative in your activity…

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Think more, write less, Mike

Please

You *are* joking right?

If not, the argument that copyright should be inherited to prevent authors and other professions being whacked by the mob, shows you are clearly running out of semi-rational arguments that don’t show you up as money grabbing

Attempting to justify the absurd lengths of copyright currently in existence is bad enough but trying to justify the inheritance of the same rights is worse

Why should anyone expect to benefit from the work of a dead relative instead of going out to work for themselves? That’s just pure laziness and effectively starts to create a modern day feudal system, with the exception that titles came with responsibilities as well as benefits

Starky says:

Re: Re: Think more, write less, Mike

“Why should anyone expect to benefit from the work of a dead relative instead of going out to work for themselves?”
I agree that inheritance of intellectual property is wrong (for the most part) but I feel the need to point out that people already benefit from work of relatives after their death and, with the exception of what the government takes, get their property.

angrier dude says:

Re: Think more, write less, Mike

“If this were not the case you would see a lot of artists and inventors dying in their prime for some unknown cause…”

What is keeping people from dying in their prime for some unknown cause? I’m sorry but your point got muddled in your ramblings. And why would they meet an untimely death?

angry dude says:

Re: Re: Think more, write less, Mike

For example, I have a patent which some large company uses without paying me a lot of money for a license.
Of course, they want my patent to expire ASAP, so they don’t get sued for patent infringement.
But if they kill me my patent will be inherited by my relatives, so those companies will not gain anything by killing me…
But if the law is passed that patent expires when inventor dies, I will probably not live for much longer. Same with copyrights on some valuable works.

Of course, I am exxagerating a little bit, but not by much… This world is a jungle…

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re: Re: Think more, write less, Mike

Why should the son/daughter/dog walker of an author continue to make new money from a creation after the death of their mum/dad/crazy employer?

On a persons death their property is handed over – in this case including the money they made from the book. Copyright is not property it is a legal monopoly, nothing more. Even stating that such a legally sanctioned extra ‘right’ should be inheritable is surely unconstitutional, as it confers more rights to one citizen than another based purely on birth and parenthood

When I die I hope I will have some savings or property to hand over to my kids, I do not expect my employer to keep giving them paychecks for work I did whilst I was alive – why should an author expect different?

mark says:

Re: Think more, write less, Mike

What property right? At least here in the US, the Founders created a limited monopoly grant. We, as a society, grant the creative among us limited monopolies as incentive. There is no such thing as “intellectual property”. It is a concept being created–of thin air–by corporate interests who consider the creative to be an expense and do whatever can be done to not reward the actual artist.

But, ultimately, we the people (to coin a phrase), give the monopoly grants to “encourage the useful arts and sciences.” The Constitution allows for such grants but does not require them. The approach was supposed to be a balance, an exchange, but it’s now tilting so heavily in the direction of the copyright holders that we, the people who granted the monopoly in the first place, are at risk of being prosecuted for the simplest things (such as your kid shared a single song–something that now carries criminal penalties even if done for non-commercial purposes).

I think actual artists and inventors should be leery of jumping onto the corporate bandwagon. It’s not like corporations are going to act in the interest of the creative, they’ll try to push them out as well. And if the public ever gets seriously tired of this game, there could be a nasty backlash. One that could result in drastic shortenings of copyrights and patents or even mass public domaining.

We could. There’s nothing stopping us–the electorate–except the general goodwill toward the creative. The public believes the creative should be rewarded and, hence, has gone (ignorantly so I’m afraid) along with the creation of “intellectual property”. But hack the public off badly enough, they could revolt. And it won’t be the corporations who took us down this path who are beaten up on, it’ll be the artists.

Ben says:

Missing from all of this

The article states that the Algerian actor was “stipulated by the playright.”

Now, in order to produce the play, the theater company would have to get a license. The article doesn’t say if the actor requirement was a stipulation of the license. If it was, then no matter how redorkulous the stipulation was, the theater company violated the terms. If, on the other hand, this cheese-eating surrender-monkey playright made some general statement about who could play his characters, it’s not the theater company’s responsibility to fulfill those wishes (unless otherwise compelled).

Now, this playright’s notoriety has grown after death. By stating stupid terms of use, the brother is certainly making sure that the value of the work depreciates. (Who wants to pay rights fees for something when there is a distinct possibility that some idiotic stipulation will shut the production down?)

While I agree that heirs shouldn’t get the equivalent of a lottery ticket, I do think that, since the playright died in 1989 (and so young) that the work is still exploitable and the heirs should be entitled to it (just the same as if he monetized the works and left a cash-fat estate behind). However, the tipping point is somewhere between that (where the author died recently — 1989 is still recent to me) and the ability for James Joyce’s grandson to be monetizing his grandfather’s works.

One example where this does work is the publication of Robert’s Rules of Order. The original work has lapsed into the public domain. The PD works have been exploited by others to create their own “Robert’s Rules.” However, a foundation has reworked the original several times so that a modern non-PD version exists. While many others are monetizing the PD version, business entities wind up purchasing the foundation’s version of the work. At least in this instance, the heirs have done their own work.

Amy Alkon (user link) says:

digs against the French

this cheese-eating surrender-monkey playright

Do you know the playwright? Why do you feel it’s necessary to use a term denigrating all French people? Do you know any French people or are you just a robot repeating what you hear on talk radio? Do you refer to blacks, Jews, and the Chinese in a similar fashion?

And P.S. And before you use some similarly denigrating term to describe me, I’m not a lefty, but a fiscal conservative and social libertarian. You might revise your notions about the French, considering use of that term is probably based on the fact that they didn’t go into Iraq. That’s looking like kind of a smart decision about now, n’est-ce pas?

Groundskeeper Willie says:

Re: digs against the French

Sorry to butt in, but I said it long before talk radio. As owner of the Cheese eating surrender monkey copyright I demand royalties.

Hello, My Uncle Willie was writing this when he died from an aneurysm. As Willie’s only heir please make out the royalty check to Groundskeeper Larry.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: digs against the French

FYI – Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey’s was around much way before Iraq (I or II)

It refers as far as I am aware to the French’s seemingly quick surrender to the Germans in both World Wars (the second one was considered the worse as they effectivly renaged on an agreement with the allies who were fighting with them at the time and in considerable increased peril)

American politicians have started to use it to refer to the Iraq II as well, and I agree with you that this is perhaps a bit unfortunate given how the whole affair played and is playing out

Just so you know ;0)

PS I think its funny and no I don’t give a shit about political correctness ;0)

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Oxy and other morons

Copyright is PROPERTY

No it is not. It is a limited, exclusive RIGHT, at least according to the US Constitution.

Please stop talking rubbish. If it were property there would be no need for copyright laws. If it is “Leased” how can it be “property”?

This is why there is no such thing as “Intellectual Property” – it is LOANED, not OWNED.

The true and original purpose purpose of copyright laws is to protect the public domain and shared culture from the “it’s-mine-forever” corporate mentality.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot this.

squik says:

Simple answer to a simple question

I do not understand the reasoning behind why heirs should be able to reap the rewards of something they had no hand in creating. If it’s about money, …

Because most people want their children to inherit their possessions. To the extent IP exists in law, people will generally want their children to inherit their IP also. You can hypothesize greed as the reason, but the true motivator is familial love.

Note, I’m telling you why people want it, not whether it is right from a social standpoint.

The inheritors should innovate in their own ways to make money, not live on the work of others.

Do you object to the inheritance of real property and financial assets? One might reasonably infer you do from your statement.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Simple answer to a simple question

I agree with you – I think in general this probably is the reason (with a fair few money grabbing exceptions)

Fact is the real property; the money, houses bought, etc etc *are* transferred at death

The point here is copyright is NOT property despite people coining the phrase “Intellectual Property” which commonly includes copyright

You even seem to acknowledge this yourself with the line Do you object to the inheritance of REAL property and financial assets – this implies that you already think copyright is not real property, why therefore should it be treated as such

Why should the offspring of so-called “creative” people receive more rights than others? And more importantly how will this benefit society which grants those rights?

As far as I am aware the Tolkien brothers did not inherit any copyright from their dad, but this has not stopped the family producing the odd book expanding on JR’s ideas – books to which the writers now DO own copyright, and are welcome to

Mike says:

As has already been said...

…if IP and property were the same there would be no need for separate laws.

Also, the thought behind copyright law is not to control for the sake of your heirs, but control in order to avoid being used by players bigger and stronger than you in the initial stages of a new invention, or patented idea, being exploited. After this first time the copyright becomes a factor stifling growth and a secondary stage of innovation instead of something protecting the inventor.

Jack says:

Copyright is already forever

Copyright is already forever, for all intents and purposes. It stretches beyond the life expectancy of everyone alive at the time of the copyright. With probability nearly 1 anything copyrighted is crap that almost no one is (or at least should be) interested in, and probability of nearly 0 it is culturally significant. On the other hand the patent on a life-saving drug that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop is good for what, 17 years?

nfk says:

Re: Copyright is already forever

But copyright was not always “forever”. It was originally intended to be much shorter, it was Congress that extended it to its current length. If I remember correctly, it used to be that in order to copyright something you needed to put a copyright notice somewhere on your work. Now it is implicitly applied to everything you do.

So does that mean patents need to be extended or copyright needs to be shortened?

angry dude says:

Copyright vs. patent

You got it, Jack..

You just need to add that a life-saving drug takes about 5-10 years to develop, test and get approved.

The difference in treating copyrights and patents is inexpicable to me, cause both concepts originate from the same Clause in the US Constitution…
But this is a subject of a serious discussion, certainly not for techdirt readership

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