Oftentimes, the estates of Los Angeles County residents will include more than just property and monetary assets. In some cases, they may contain the rights to copyrighted works. The management of those works may be entrusted to a single heir of the estate. This could end up causing contention if outside parties approach the manager of those works seeking the right to adapt to new content. If and when this new content becomes profitable, a debate may arise over how the estate’s portion of those profits should be shared. The potential of another estate beneficiary granting the unauthorized use of the decedent’s works may also become an issue.
Issues similar to these have reportedly been plaguing the estate of the iconic novelist John Steinbeck for years. The late author’s third wife was initially made the primary beneficiary of his copyrights upon his death. Today, her daughter manages their access. Steinbeck’s son and daughter-in-law, however, have been reported to have given permission to filmmakers to adapt some of his works into movies without approval. Representatives of the step-daughter also claim the two had succeeding in sabotaging collaborative efforts between production studios and the estate in the past, with the most recent being an attempt to insert themselves into negotiations with DreamWorks on a proposed remake of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
When considering how the ownership and/or management of one’s copyrighted works will be handled by his or her beneficiaries, one may want to contemplate how he or she can spread such a responsibility out as equally as possible in order to avoid future disputes. An estate planning attorney may be a great source of advice to have when considering this.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter “John Steinbeck Heirs Now Feuding Over Steven Spielberg ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Adaption” Gardner, Eriq, Apr. 04, 2016