The Imposition of Intellectual Property Rights on Estate

Probate review of an estate involving an artist or inventor’s rights to creative or innovative works, is based on rules of intellectual property (IP) law. Planning an estate or trust for purposes of royalty income exemption from federal Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) taxation affords an artist or inventor benefit from the sale or use of their licensed work. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) authorizes registration of copyright, patent, and trademark. According to USPTO rules, licensed work is protected from infringement. An estate further protects a registered owner from unauthorized use of those assets. Planned giving specialists involves in estate contribution of artistic or cultural property assets to a nonprofit charitable giving strategy, can read on to find out more about the import of IP laws within estate laws.

Michael Jackson’s Estate

In May 2018, Michael Jackson’s estate filed lawsuit against media giants ABC Inc. and the Walt Disney Company. What unfolded as the world watched, was dispute over unauthorized use of the late musician’s celebrated creative work. Estate ownership of all copyrights to the artist’s music included 30 songs and videos part of a two-hour made for television documentary about Jackson. The facts to the widely publicized legal matter suggest Jackson’s estate was not officially approached about use of the artist’s material in exchange for royalties. The defendants denied infringement of the estate’s rights, citing “fair use” related to the work in media circulation for some time.

Estates and IP Law

In hindsight, the lawsuit filed by the Jackson estate illustrates the imposition of IP law in circumstances where an artist’s tangible or intangible assets are construed as “public” media. Indeed, the efficacy of the “commons” where public discourse and debate have the power to supplant the original intent of creative or inventive works, the issue of intellectual property emerges. IP laws give primacy to the sovereign rights of artists and investors where their intellectual property is concerned. This is certainly during life, yet as the myriad of IP matters disputing estate control over licensed work reveals, contestation by third parties after death is common. This is even true in the case where an artist has transferred all rights to an estate or trust, and the amount of royalties has increased due to demand for an artist or inventor’s work post-mortem.

The Rights of Estates

Federal and state estate laws provides that rights to copyright, patent, and trademark ownership continue as estate rights after the originator of the work has passed. This includes estate bequests or gifts mentioning use, distribution, or instructions related to a registered IP asset. The transfer of USPTO registered property to an estate or trust gives full entitlement to registrant rights for a specified period after death.

Example is New York’s 70-to-120-year rule protecting estate ownership of registered intellectual property after an originator has died. The term permitted for trust ownership under estate law rules depends on the type of material, and existing licensing and royalties’ arrangements connected to distribution or representation.

Where estate rights to intellectual property precede the death of an artist or inventor, those rights can in some circumstances be effectively terminated by the beneficiary inheritors. Estate planning for control and disposition of IP rights after the original registrant has died is significant in respect to the continuity of rights and future royalties that may flow from the approved third party use of those licensed assets.

Enforceability of Estate IP Protections

Royalties are enforceable under federal USPTO regulation, and state statutory rules. Professional advisors providing estate, trust, and will planning services are experienced in matters of intellectual property registration of copyright, patent, and trademark. Estates can enforce USPTO registered rights to fair use payments with the assistance of an attorney specializing in estate law and probate review. Protect an artist or inventor’s rights to intellectual property by forming and estate for transfer or registered assets to a trust.

Estate dispute of media royalties from USPTO registered property assets gives insight into how licensed works are subject to the federal intellectual property (IP) law of “fair use.”

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