Washington Law Review

Article

Artistic Control After Death

March 21, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 253

Abstract: To what extent should authors be able to control what happens to their literary, artistic, and musical creations after they die? Viewed through the lens of a number of succession law trends, the evidence might suggest that strong control is warranted. The decline of the Rule Against Perpetuities and rise of incentive trusts reflect a tightening grip of the dead hand. And yet, an unconstrained ability of the dead to determine future uses of literature, art, and music is a fundamentally troubling notion. This Article evaluates the instructions authors give with respect to their authorial works against the backdrop of the laws and policies that govern bequests more generally. In particular, it considers the enforceability of attempted artistic control through the imposition of a fiduciary duty. In balancing the competing interests, this Article considers the demands of both state trust laws and federal copyright policy. In the end, this Article argues that authorial instructions must yield to the needs of the living. Such a view requires that, to the greatest extent possible, some living person(s) be authorized to decide how works of authorship are used—even if that means overriding artistic control by the dead.

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