Last month, Professor Eva Subotnik presented a new paper at the IP Scholars Conference (IPSC) held at Stanford Law School.
Her paper, Free as the Heir? Copyright Successors as Stewards, offers a framework for the role played by copyright successors. Here is the abstract:
The death of the author figure has been proclaimed in some circles. Regardless of one’s ideological stance in that debate, it is beyond cavil that authors really do die. Under the current copyright term, it is likewise indisputable that copyright interests still owned by the author at death will pass to someone else. The gray areas emerge around the question of whether successors to these interests are under a duty to exploit them in ways that further the public interest. This article focuses on the role of an author’s post-death successors in shaping the legacy and availability of a body of authorial work. Comparing and contrasting the roles served by successors to other sorts of assets, this article considers the different functions copyright successors play, and it evaluates competing views about what they should accomplish. Ultimately, it offers a conception of copyright successors as stewards of the interests they inherit. The article’s goals are to provide a descriptive and theoretical account and to offer some suggestions for reform.