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New Jersey estate administration: Copyrights are valuable assets

Who to choose to administer an estate after a person's death is often an important consideration for New Jersey individuals engaged in estate planning to make. Estate administration can be relatively simple when few assets are involved; but in cases where significant amounts of assets or intellectual property are at stake, it can become more complex. For instance, in cases where an author with a valuable literary heritage dies, estate administration can involve overseeing how copyright issues are handled after that author's death.

There are few literary characters more famous than Sherlock Holmes. Recently, a Holmes scholar decided to sue the estate of author Conan Doyle, the man responsible for penning multiple stories featuring the famed detective. The scholar behind the suit had written a collection of short stories, titled 'In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,' and the estate wanted the man to pay a fee for the right to publish them. The man, on the other hand, contends that the character of Sherlock Holmes is now a part of the public domain in the United States.

The dispute arises because of the fact that some of the Sherlock Holmes stories have indeed passed into public domain use as far as U.S. copyright law is concerned, since they appeared prior to 1923. The scholar who wrote the new stories based at least one of them on a Holmes story published in 1924. The Conan Doyle estate argues that this fact means that the scholar should be required to pay a licensing fee for the whole book.

It's too soon to tell how exactly this dispute will play out in court, but it does illustrate just one of the complex issues that may arise in the process of estate administration. Those who have New Jersey estates that include intellectual property or a high amount of assets may wish to consider carefully who they choose to administer them once they die. This can help make sure that their estates are handled in the best manner to protect whatever heirs are left behind to benefit from solid estate administration.

Source: slate.com, "Is Sherlock Holmes in the public domain? A new lawsuit will decide," Alex Heimbach, March 26, 2013

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