Help! I Can’t Find The Copyright Owner Of This Piece But I Need To Use It!

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I want to write a book and it would feature an old story from a 1956 periodical. I have been trying to get a copyright permission to include this short story. However, the publisher was bought out a couple times. The new company put me on hold while they searched their records further, and told me that the “rightful owners” are a completely different firm in New York. I cannot find them on the Internet to contact them to get the needed copyright permission so that I can proceed with my book.

Could you please give me expert advice or help?


Hi Betty,

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.

That said…just because you can’t find the copyright owner doesn’t mean you can use the piece. Some people (wrongly) think that their difficulty in finding the copyright owner must mean the owner has disappeared or died. Even if that was the case, the copyrights (which are assets) would then be passed on to that person’s heirs (depending on the original copyright and any renewals, of course). Even if the copyright was owned by a company, and even if that company went out of business, the owner of that business (or his/her heirs) still owns any remaining assets, including copyrights.

So, to summarize, just because you can’t find a copyright owner doesn’t mean you can use their material without permission. That’s like saying you couldn’t find the owner of a particular car so you took it for a joyride without first asking permission.

Please consult with your attorney concerning this matter. Violating somebody’s copyright can not only be very expensive if you get caught, but it’s also just plain wrong.

You can read U.S. copyright law here:

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