What happens to the Copyrights in your photographs after you die?

Copyright in photography is valid for 50 years from when an image was made public or the first date of publication. Many of your copyrighted images may ‘outlive’ you. What happens to those copyrighted works after you die?
What happens to the Copyrights in your photographs after you die. Sandenbergh Vosloo Attorneys

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Effect of your death

Copyrighted works do not become public domain once the owner has died. So, what happens to the Copyrights in your photographs after you die? The works in which copyrights continue their term, after your death, may still leave a legacy to your loved ones.
Ownership of your copyrights is transferred to the heirs of your estate. You use a will to name a beneficiary to whom you’d like to transfer such ownership. A will makes your wishes clear and unambiguous.
If the work has been licensed, ceded or otherwise transferred before your death through an agreement establishing that license, cession or transfer, your death does not necessarily mean that such agreement is terminated. The license holder or owner retains the specific rights granted to them for as long as the agreement lasts, or until the copyright term expires. Such an agreement (if drafted properly) trumps your will.

Use of the work

Once ownership has been passed on to an heir, he/she may generally use and license your works in whatever way they wish. You can use your will to specifically outline how you’d like your works to be used after you pass away. It may be necessary especially when you bequeath such ownership to more than one person.

Where do you start?

Start by gathering information and keeping records of your copyrighted works, those that are licenced, ceded and any that are stock photos. Keep this information in one place and somewhere easily accessible to your loved ones or executor.
Get your will drafted by a professional who not only understands estate law but also copyrights. A properly drafted will is a valuable investment of your time and money. It prevents delays in the finalisation of your estate, gives certainty and gives you and your loved one peace of mind.


The information set out herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice from any lawyer or representative of our firm.
Professional advice should therefore be sought before any action is taken based on the information displayed on herein.
Sandenbergh Vosloo Attorneys do not accept any responsibility for actions taken without due consultation and no person shall have any claim of any nature whatsoever arising out of, or in connection with, the contents hereof against Sandenbergh Vosloo Attorneys and/or any of its partners and/or employees.


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