What is the law regarding publishing a deceased person's memoirs and the royalties included?

Full Question:

I am a freelance writer trying to help the sister of a deceased person get that person's memoirs published. This will not be a commercial transaction, although some royalties may accrue if the memoir is published. The deceased person left her estate in trust to twelve heirs, so we assume the intellectual property rights in the memoirs also belong to those heirs. Eleven of the twelve heirs have agreed, in writing, to having the memoirs published, with the Trust receiving the royalties, if any. The twelfth heir has not responded to e-mails, letters or telephone calls and presumably cannot be reached. Are we required to have the approval of the twelfth heir? Or can we proceed in the absence of her response, on the assumption that 'no response' is not a negative response? An important point, I believe, is that the financial interest of the twelfth heir will not be damaged in any way, since any royalties coming into the trust will be shared among all twelve heirs. She would have no basis to claim that she had been damaged, if the memoir is published in the absence of her assent.
04/14/2009   |   Category: Intellectual Prope...   |   State: North Carolina   |   #16003


It is your obligation as publisher to make every reasonable effort to contact all persons or organizations with a copyright claim on the work you wish to publish. If the copyright owner is dead, his/her heirs could give permission. A copyright owner’s silence, even if you have given him or her a deadline, is not considered agreement. Failure to locate a copyright owner will leave you liable for copyright infringement from the owner or his heirs, but a documented “good faith” effort can help to mitigate damages, so be sure to document your efforts to contact these sources.

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