Protecting Intellectual Property Rights
Writers, like everyone else, know their day will come. We are not immortal, though the legacy of our work will live on after we die and will continue to produce revenue for our heirs, but only if we plan for it. This is especially so for self-published authors, such as myself.
So, how do we plan for the inevitable when our natural inclination is to banish thoughts of our own death from our minds? Like most people, we writers think we’ll live forever. Often we don’t write that last will and testament and leave our heirs with the overwhelming task of not only planning the funeral, but trying to figure out what to do with the patrimony we’ve left.
For writers, it comes down to protecting our intellectual property rights. How does a writer go about doing that? It’s not as simple as what you’ve probably heard—As soon as you put pen to paper, copyright protects your words. Try to defend that in a U.S. court of law when you discover someone has plagiarized your work and is publishing it as theirs.
Writers stand a slightly better chance if they have registered their work with the Canadian Copyright Office and sent hard copies of the finished books to Libraries and Archives Canada. They can only do that if they obtained ISBNs for those books from L. A. C.. Thankfully, ISBNs are free in Canada.
They stand an even better chance if they registered their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Authors can upload digital copies of their books to the eCO or Electronic Copyright Office of the U. S. Government. At the time, registering my first five books cost me $65.00 USD each.
Why register with both? Canadian Copyright Law protects authors’ works for 50 years after the day of their death. After that, their works fall into the public domain. In the U.S., Copyright Law protects their works for 70 years.
Also, if authors have planned well, they will leave a business succession plan for their heirs. It will help them access not only the business bank accounts, but all the online accounts where the authors sell their books. That way royalties earned can continue to come in for the benefit of the heirs. Creating such a plan is a laborious but a necessary task. A bigger one is yet to come.
It’s how to protect the writer’s intellectual property rights so that the long line of heirs can continue to benefit from revenues the authors’ works will continue to produce.
In my case, living in the province of Quebec, a careful study of Canadian Copyright Law and the Civil Code of Quebec was in order after reading Sandra E. Foster’s book You Can't Take It With You, Common-Sense Estate Planning for Canadians and Estate Planning For Authors by M. L. Buchman, an American author. Each province and state has its particular way of legally protecting the work of authors.
In my case, what I needed was a testamentary trust to protect my intellectual property rights. Taking the time to study how to do this helped me prepare for the discussions I would eventually have with notaries when searching for one to properly set this up for me in English.
It took me many months to find a notary up to the challenge. Calling the Quebec Chamber of Notaries for a referral led me to the notary in Montreal who, supposedly, was the expert in such matters. Three months later, after repeated follow-up emails and phone calls to set up a first meeting, his secretary told me to look for a local notary to help me. “It’ll save you travel and gas expenses,” were her words.
My perusal of the Chamber of Notaries Directory for local notaries who also work in English produced a list of eight names. After checking out those who had websites, I settled on one, made an appointment with her, met with her, and came to an agreement on how to proceed, only to be told six months later she didn’t have the time to do it.
I went back to the Chamber of Notaries Directory, found a new name to add to the list. I sent each notary an email inquiry with a description of what I wanted and told them that I did not want to be told later they could not do it. Within thirty minutes I received a reply from the newly listed notary who told me she had just completed a course on intellectual property rights and that she was keen to take up the challenge of creating a testamentary trust to protect my intellectual property rights. I feel that serendipity led me to this notary. I received replies from five of the others a week and more later. One did not work in English. One recommended another whom I had contacted. He couldn't help me. The others inquired if I still needed their services.
In my first meeting with Éliane, we discussed my draft of my last will and testament. I had written it to the best of the knowledge I had gleaned from studying Canadian copyright law, and the Quebec Civil Code. It included my version of the trust I wanted set up. After that meeting, I knew I had found the right person to work with. She impressed me as eager, intelligent, efficient, and thoroughly organized. She reminded me of my editor and my proof-reader, both people I am lucky to have to work with me on my novels. In Éliane I had found a third professional to help me protect my intellectual property rights.
Éliane had thoroughly studied my will and the trust section I had written in layman’s language. She reconfirmed her understanding of it, its stated goal, and she noted in the margins the legal and administrative aspects the testamentary trust section of the will must contain. We agreed that she would draw up a first draft and send it to me for consideration of items that might need clarification, correction, or addition.
At that first meeting, she had also explained the advantage of having a notarized protection mandate. I provided her with the one I had previously prepared so she could draft a more precise one to benefit me and my family members who would deal with such matters should the need arise.
After several exchanges via email, we met for a second time to go over the document thoroughly. Éliane had drafted it in English legalese. She made sure I understood it and that it respected my intentions. One thing I learned about my trust is that at its formation, upon my death, it must be funded. The trustees must account for how they use the funds and report on the revenue and royalties earned. The tax people get their due. I had to decide the amount to fund the trust. Luckily, I had planned for an operating fund in my business succession plan; so, I did not hem and haw on that detail. I had the number. I was glad to have Éliane explain all these necessary legal administrative aspects of a trust to me, as over time the trustees will change. That requires powers of transition. We made several clarifications to the trust section of my will.
Before our third and last meeting, Éliane prepared the final document. She sent me a copy to read and to make any corrections I thought necessary. At that meeting she went over my last will and testament, the trust section, and my protection mandate, re-explaining each section for my benefit. We signed the documents.
All I had left to do was pay for her services and pick up the documents once she had registered them. It was money well spent. I now have peace of mind because I’ve taken the time to give the heirs to my legacy the tools to take care of it. I hope my heirs will benefit from my legacy.