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Q: If there is a book or books where the author/s are no longer alive or exists and the publisher no longer holds a copyright/patent and/or is defunct — what are my legal or ethical obligations regarding any living relatives (if any) to the original author/s…?
A: It's important to distinguish between the question of whether the publisher or rights holder still exists, and whether the protection of copyright law is still in force. We can't conclude that the copyright no longer persists merely because the publisher is defunct. Often, when companies go out of business, they sell or transfer their assets, so it's important to investigate carefully.
If the copyright in the work has indeed expired, or if the author has expressly dedicated it to the public, it is said to be in the public domain, and is therefore free for anyone to use, without obligation to the original author or his/her estate.
An experienced entertainment lawyer can help determine who, if anyone, holds rights that need to be cleared.
This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for readers’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.