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Earnings from Deceased Writers

Where does the money go?

According to Wikipedia "the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years" depending where in the world you live. But what exactly happens to the proceeds made from literary works after the author has died? In most cases it is attributed to family members or spouses but that can become a murky area with extended family, divorce, remarriages etc; unless there is a will left by the writer that says otherwise. And even then I'm sure there would be some one to challenge it.

I was reading a recent issue of the Smithsonian where Keenan Mayo briefly discussed the family feud over Emily Dickinson's writings and it struck me as odd how long this in-fighting has gone on. The woman has been dead since 1886! And what happens when the fighting is going on? The income from dead authors doesn't just wait around until the lawful heir is decided.

Personally, I think that after the first generation that money made from the works of an author should go into a fund of some kind to help up and coming fresh writers, as in a grant; or to start a literary program in the author's name. And what about after the copyright has expired? Technically, anyone can republish the work and make money from it. If copyright must end for the author and family, why shouldn't the literary community as a whole benefit from these works. Especially in a time when art programs, literary festivals, and the like are being cancelled for lack of funding (NOT lack of interest) because it lacks priority in the big picture. Recently it was announced in Ottawa the city was cutting all it's funding by 100% for author's grants and literary festivals leaving these programs that have previously thrived because of the aid to fend for themselves.

I realize it would be incredibly difficult to institute a plan like this but I can dream can't I. What about you, what would you like to see happen with the works from deceased authors and the money earned from their projects?



M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada. If you are going to find this eclectic reader and writer anywhere it is probably at her computer. For more information visit her official website.

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