Estate Planning for Digital Intellectual Property Rights

There can be significant value in the intellectual property rights attached to pictures, music, movies, literary works, Web pages, computer code, and other creative works existing as digital property. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, intellectual property in the United States is worth more than $5 trillion (link).

When dealing with a person’s incapacity or death, the family members and fiduciaries should consider the value of the person’s digital intellectual property, especially if the person worked as a writer, photographer, artist, musician, inventor, or in a similar profession. Look for Internet accounts on Flickr, SmugMug, and other digital picture sharing sites. Look for Internet accounts on YouTube and other video sharing sites. Also look through financial records for revenues from Internet sites that license photos and artwork, sell songs to download, and offer e–books and other written works for sale.

When an author or artist dies, there may be renewed interest in the person’s works because of his or her death. A great example of this is Michael Jackson. As of March 2010, an estimated 31 million Michael Jackson albums were sold following his death on June 25, 2009 (link). As a result, his estate negotiated a new publishing deal with Sony worth a guaranteed $200 million—reported to be the most lucrative recording contract ever (link).

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