Dear Ms. Hoy,
I just want to do what my spouse/friend asked me before he died. He wrote a great book and verbally, and in a short email, gave me the book to continue its printing. He did a third edition, and changed the ISBN number prior to passing so I could start a new copy, and continue his legacy.
The estate claims it belongs to them. I have also been given the only copy of the 3rd edition on a computer stick. I have two emails thanking him for this gift and I promised him I would pay out of pocket to continue his book. I feel copyright law is void as he told me verbally, and by email, and I have a witness who talked to him about giving the book to me.
It was intentionally left out of the will completely as he did not want his ex-wife or friends, who wanted the rights, to be upset with him. He also said it was a gift – one of many he gifted to people and kept out of his will.
Although I, too, am a beneficiary, I wish to do as he asked me. What can I do, if anything?
I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for your specific needs.
I am very, very sorry for your loss. I know this is frustrating for you. Unfortunately, I have seen this type of situation before.
First, copyright law is never “void.” There are specific requirements for bequeathing assets to individuals in order for those to be accepted by the courts. For example, we recently sent a variety of changes to our wills to our attorney. She was leaving town for two weeks, and couldn’t process them right away. She said that, if we died before the changes were implemented, and even though she had an email from us with our express wishes, only the terms of the old wills would be recognized by the courts. The new wills won’t be valid until they are finalized and notarized.
It’s not clear if you and he were still legally married or not. If you were his wife when he passed, I would assume you would be in charge of the estate…but that doesn’t appear that is the case.
Since he didn’t specifically leave his book rights to you in his will, I doubt you would win in court if you pursue this. If his attorney advised him to leave assets out of the will to avoid upsetting family members or friends, that attorney should be tarred, feathered, and disbarred. However, it sounds like your friend perhaps did not get the advice of an attorney when writing the will.
It would stand to reason that you have already shared the emails you exchanged with him with the executor and they, apparently, didn’t agree with his wishes, or perhaps didn’t believe the emails were real.
If I was in your shoes, I would not pursue publishing his book. And, as a gesture of good will, I would give an electronic copy of the manuscript to the estate. A fight of this nature would likely not be worth it, emotionally nor financially, in the long run.
Additional info. is here:
Can I Publish My Dead Friend’s Manuscript? No!
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How Many Copies Of Your Book Would You Have To Sell In Order To Break Even?