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In the 21st century, the term artist encompasses many different mediums from literary works and paintings to music, apps, audiovisual and architecture. And implementing an estate plan around the unique assets of modern artists requires the estate planner to consider different strategies to protect the value of the artist’s creations during life and after death. Understanding the impact of copyright on estate planning the artist/client is the initial priority.

Since 1978, a copyright has come into existence with the creation of an “original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” (17 U.S.C. §102) but the enforceability of that copyright is dependent on the registration with the US Copyright Office. Copyright ownership is separate from the ownership of the artistic work and the sale of the artistic work will not automatically transfer the copyright, unless expressed in writing. 17 U.S.C. §204. The transfer of an interest in a copyright can be to the whole or a portion and can occur in a number of ways. 17 U.S.C. §201(d). The transfer of a copyright can be limited in use and in timeframe. The term of a copyright created on or after Jan. 1, 1978 is “life plus 70 years.” 17 U.S.C. §302.

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