What happens to your copyright after you die?


What happens to your copyright after you die?

What is spoken can be forgotten, but what is written remains. Authors are not immortal but their copyrights can survive them, for a certain time at least. What happens to the copyright on an author’s content after that person has passed away?

Copyright continues after the author’s lifetime

In Canada, content is protected by copyright during the author’s entire lifetime and then until the end of the 50th year following the author’s death. That means users have to request permission to use or perform works even after the author has died.

Who manages the copyright and receives the royalties paid? The author’s heirs. If the heirs die within the 50-year timeframe after the author’s death, their share of the copyright will then be bequeathed to their own heirs.

How to hand down your copyright

Copyright is also a property right. It can therefore be included in your will. After consulting a notary or lawyer, you can include a copyright clause in your will to specify how your patrimonial rights will be conveyed.

If there is no specific copyright clause in a Quebec resident’s will, the copyright will be included in the movable property or residuary bequest categories usually found in a will.

It should be noted that moral rights cannot be passed on to heirs. Of course, the heirs cannot claim authorship of a work. Moral rights therefore cannot be bequeathed. However, authors can waive their moral rights but must have done so in writing before their death.

If there is no a will

In Quebec, if someone dies without a will, the rules governing the person’s civil union or matrimonial regime will apply. If there is no spouse, the rights will be distributed according to the rules set out in the Quebec Civil Code. For more information about how an estate is divided up if the person dies without leaving a will, please refer to this guide from Éducaloi.

What does the executor (liquidator) have to do?

As long as the estate (succession) remains open, Copibec will issue cheques in the estate’s name. Once the estate has been settled, the executor/liquidator must contact all the organizations managing the deceased’s copyrights, including the publisher, the Public Lending Right Program (PLR) and Copibec. After that, all requests for permission and all royalties will be forwarded to the heirs.

Executors/liquidators dealing with Copibec will be asked to provide the following information and copies:

- Death certificate (act of death)
- Will search confirmation
- Will
- Heirs’ social insurance numbers and contact information

If the person died without a will, the death certificate/act of death and the will search confirmation will be needed. The heirs will have to certify in writing that they’re the only legatees under the Quebec Civil Code.

The required documents can be sent to Copibec at com@copibec.ca.

If you have any questions, please contact Simon Éthier, Rightsholder Services Officer, at 514-288-1664 #224 or s.ethier@copibec.com