Succession and heirs

Copyright beyond the author’s lifetime

The rights applicable to works do not disappear with the death of the author.

In Canada, the protection guaranteed by the Copyright Act extends until the end of the 70th year following death. It is then the heirs (and possibly their own estates) who become copyright owners, thus both beneficiaries and responsible for the bequeathed literary heritage.

Copyright is bequeathed and sometimes divided according to the terms of the will. If no article in the will specifically concerns copyright, it is treated as “movable and immovable property” and forms part of the residuary universal legacy.

If the author dies without a will, the rules of legal inheritance distribution apply as for the rest of the estate.

When the estate’s account is closed, Copibec pays any royalties and other payments directly to the heirs. In order to update the file in our database, the persons in charge of the estate must send us, by e-mail or by mail, copies of the following documents:

    • Death certificate
    • Proof of will search (Barreau du Québec and Chambre des notaires du Québec)
    • Will
  • Complete contact information for each heir to the rights, including their Social Insurance Number (SIN), since copyright income is taxable

Royalties can also be paid in the name of the estate for as long as it remains open. However, we will need full contact details for the person responsible for receiving cheques and administering the file.

Other organizations are also likely to have a file in the name of the deceased author and should also potentially be contacted, for example:

  • Publishers who have published his works
  • Other collective management societies (SoQAD, CEAD, SOCAN, Access Copyright, and more)

It’s important to remember that most publishing contracts continue after the author’s death, and that the heirs must respect the contractual obligations, as if they were replacing the author for the rest of the work.

If the author has assigned the rights to his works to a publishing house, the latter will continue to hold them after his death, and will pay the royalties to the estate.

The administration or distribution of copyright can sometimes be deemed too complex by some of the designated heirs. As a result, several solutions are available to the estate:

  • Set up a trust to administer the rights
  • Assign the copyright, or only the revenues derived from it, to a single person
  • Designate a single person to be responsible for collecting and distributing royalties
  • And so on.

New agreements signed by the various parties are then required, and we recommend consulting the services of a lawyer or notary specialized in intellectual property to properly assess the various possibilities.


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