None of us enjoys contemplating our own mortality, but eventually, each of us will pass on. If we have any sort of property, establishing a will or estate plan is always important, but if our estates involve significant intellectual property, or the rights to receive royalties or residuals, the need is much greater. Unless our heirs are well-versed in the creative industries, it is unlikely they will understand the property they’ve received, or how to maximize its return.
Among the firm’s most frequent client inquiries are those from heirs to artists, writers, songwriters, composers, designers, actors, and others who have received interests in intellectual property or residuals, but don’t know the details of the property they’ve inherited, nor how to exploit it for maximum profit. They don’t know who else may have rights to use their copyrights, who else should be paying royalties or residuals, or how much those royalties or residuals should be.
While the firm certainly can and does help such heirs to understand the property they’ve inherited, it is far more efficient and effective for creative rightsholders to prepare their estates in advance. The songwriter, actor, or artist who created the works has incomparable knowledge about the works, their disposition, and the deals which govern them; likewise, these creative rightsholders usually know more about their industries than their heirs, who frequently have no idea where to look for information, or what to make of it if they find some. Better, then, if the creative rightsholder can leave his heirs a detailed catalog and roadmap, so his or her loved ones will be able to understand what they’ve inherited and how best to exploit it.
The Law Offices of Joshua Graubart, P.C. can assist both creative rightsholders and their heirs in cataloging important works, recording their status (co-owners, publishers, current licenses) and what royalties or residuals heirs should expect to flow from those assets. In addition, under U.S. copyright law, a creator or certain of his heirs may “take back” copyrights or terminate licenses during a short window decades after the work’s creation; such a termination can restore control to an artist or his heirs, or produce extra revenue by reselling the recaptured rights. The termination process is extremely complicated, however, and a lawyer’s assistance is invaluable in successfully attaining termination.
A catalog review can also be quite useful outside of estate planning. Mid- or late-career artists can benefit from the perspective of an outside eye, which can often see important issues or avenues of revenue which are invisible from the artist’s up-close perspective. Missing royalties or revenues and non-producing licenses can be followed up, tracked down, and renegotiated or terminated. Likewise, an experienced lawyer may see instances of infringement which should be curtailed or turned into revenue. It is important to review potential infringements quickly, as copyright infringement in the United States is subject to a short limitation period.