On November 7, 2012

If you’re a painter, writer or other type of creative artist, you probably have a few unfinished projects lying around. Some may be works in progress, while others could be castoffs that you decided not to finish because you ran out of inspiration or money. You may choose to keep these unfinished works, either because you can’t bear to destroy it or hope it will contribute to a future project. Whatever the case, they are your personal property, in more ways than one.

Often when a well-known author or artist dies, fans or family members become hungry for more of the deceased’s material. Music labels often release albums that musicians recorded before they died. Artwork of deceased painters may start appearing in galleries. And publishers may put out works by authors who died, even if they aren’t finished.

James M. Cain, author of novels including “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” had another novel that he never finished before his death in 1977. After an ardent fan learned that the manuscript was still in existence, he spent several years hunting it down. In his search he discovered hundreds of pages of material for the book, which he proceeded to edit and publish. The novel didn’t rise to the level of Cain’s earlier work, raising the question of whether it should have been published at all.

Copyright laws do a fairly good job of preventing intellectual property from being published without permission, but there are other stories like this one. Both Franz Kafka and Vladimir Nabokov ordered their friends and family members to destroy their unpublished work after their deaths, but their wishes were ignored. While some might argue that releasing the work of these literary geniuses hasn’t tarnished their legacies, you might be more particular about your own work.

One way to protect your intellectual property after death is to specify in your will exactly what you want done with it. If you don’t trust your family members to respect your wishes, you can rely on a friend or colleague to protect your work. You can even include provisions for any violations of the terms you set up; for example, anyone who releases your work and profits from it must pay restitution. The more specific you are in outlining who should have control over your intellectual property, the more likely it is that your wishes will be granted.

Source: The Millions, “The Man Who Blew the Dust Off James M. Cain’s Long Last Novel,” Bill Morris, Oct. 29, 2012

· Our firm handles wills, trusts and many other estate planning needs. To learn more about our practice, visit our Colorado estate and trust administration page.

Categories: Estate Administration

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