Knives Out for storage jars (copyright geeks, that is)

I very much enjoyed Knives Out and recommend it even for non-copyright
geeks, but I suspect that some of the despicable family members didn’t need to
despair so much about being cut out of the patriarch’s will. Based on the
description in the movie, the patriarch had transferred his copyrights to his
publishing company, of which he was the sole owner (presumably for tax reasons).  He did this for two books a year and
apparently had been doing so since the 1980s. 
Given these transfers, §203 termination would be possible for a vast
number of his works, and on a regular basis, giving the two living children and
the grandchild by the deceased child equal shares in the revenues derivable
from the works as long as at least two of them could agree to terminate. 
Of course, it appears that the film rights were the most
valuable part of the copyrights, and if he transferred only book rights to the
publishing company then the film rights would have transferred, unterminably,
by will; it’s possible the discussion of transferring the “copyrights” was
merely loose talk.  Certainly the family
lawyer didn’t raise the possibility of termination with the family, which
suggests that he wasn’t the right lawyer for a literary estate.
… But. Since the devisee presently owns the publishing company
and the copyrights (subject to §203), they might be able to pull of a Steinbeck/Winnie
the Pooh move. At least before any given §203 notice is filed and the rights
thus vest in the parties entitled to send the notice, they might be able to
agree to rescind the earlier transfers and replace them with new, nonterminable
transfers to the publishing company (nonterminable because they are post-1978
transfers not made by the author), cutting out the statutory heirs
entirely.  Is there any reason this
wouldn’t work?
Other lawyerly questions raised by the movie include: assuming
no undue influence, even if the slayer rule applied to the sole beneficiary of
the currently valid will, it seems to me that you don’t go back to the previous
valid will. Instead, you just strike the slayer out of the will, meaning that
the will doesn’t dispose of the estate, and you distribute the assets as if the
patriarch died intestate.  That means
that grandchildren don’t get anything if a relevant parent is still alive, even
if they got their own grant in the previous will.  But I could be wrong about that!
Also: did [spoiler] actually murder the patriarch?  Relatedly, is [other spoiler] a slayer under
inheritance law because of the but-for causal relationship between their
behavior and the death? Pointers to any legal discussions of these issues welcome!

from Blogger

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