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Delta-Lawyer
Delta-Lawyer, Patent Prosecutor
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 3546
Experience:  Patent Bar Certified
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My best friend died last year, and he had given me over decades

Customer Question

My best friend died last year, and he had given me over decades copies of 2 of his unpublished literary works. I have one of them in every form of media: hard drive, flash drive, hard copy and disk. Though we hired a firm to make a will, it did not happen before his death. He had no living family. I had power of attorney.
The Public Administrator came to his apartment and took what they wanted. They left behind his 2 works, which I took but already had (with the apartment owners presence and permission) before the haulers were there to trash all of his stuff.
I notice just now that my friend did NOT place on one of the manuscripts (the printed hard copy) a copyright. I'm sure then that he did not put it anywhere else, because the hard copy comes as close to publication as it can. What it only has is his first 2 initials and his last name on the front page.
Am I correct to believe that this is NOT copyrighted, and that I do NOT need to establish ownership. The issue for me is that not having a will, I do not want the royalties to go to probate court.
[His second book is less important to me right now, but on the inside cover sheet he put a simple copyright.) The more important book which I plan to get published at one of the top scale university presses has no copyright on it. I am drafting a proposal for publication of this work.
Thanking you in advance for any assistance you can provide.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Expert:  Delta-Lawyer replied 1 year ago.
"Am I correct to believe that this is NOT copyrighted, and that I do NOT need to establish ownership." Not necessarily. Just by creating the document, he had a common law copyright on it - no matter whether he placed a copyright insignia on it. Moreover, just because one places that mark on a document does not mean that they have a federally recognized copyright. That person must file a copyright application in order to have federal copyright protection. So, you have two types of copyright: (1) common law which occurs just by putting pen to paper, or typing it; and (2) federal copyright protection as garnered by filing with the US Copyright Office. If he has no family and he left these items to you, you can legally make them your property by (unfortunately) filing a petition with the probate court, providing your evidence that he left it to you, getting an order to that effect from the court, and then filing for federal copyright protection on both items that you own, via court order. That is the cleanest and most foolproof way to handle the situation. Since he has no family, it should be relatively easy. Let me know if you have any other questions or comments. Please also rate my answer positively. Thanks!