After a long illness, Estate Program manager Bud Webster passed away in 2016. SFWA is deeply indebted to Bud for the work he put into this program, and we hope to honor him by keeping it strong.
The Estate Program has assembled, and is maintaining, a database of the estates of deceased authors which includes contact information for their heirs and/or agents. This resource enables editors, publishers and agents to seek permissions, make payments, and double-check rights.
The overall purpose is to promote and help preserve the work of those writers who helped build the sf/fantasy field, as well as more recently deceased writers, and to ensure that legitimate publication can take place without violating copyright protection.
As it stands now, the database contains information on more than 450 estates and is added to and corrected frequently.
Researching these estates isn’t always easy. Sometimes all we have to do is ask an editor or publisher who’s already reprinted classic material who they dealt with, and then confirm with the heir or agent. All too often, though, it’s been necessary for us to consult obituaries for the names of heirs, use online phone listings and social network sites for contact info, and then spend time and money making calls and waiting for replies.
Not everyone is willing to respond, either. There are far too many examples of “publishers” who are only too eager to declare a story or book Public Domain after spending ten minutes worth of “due diligence.” The current copyright law makes it difficult for authors or their heirs to keep pirated versions off of the Internet and even for sale at Amazon.com. By providing contact information for these estates, we increase the likelihood that legitimate, authorized editions will be made available. The Estate Project helps publishers stay on the up-and-up, as well as negating the excuse “but we couldn’t find the information!” from people who don’t want to abide by the rules.
So, why is this important? Because the best writing in our field is represented not just by the current roster of authors, but also by the writers who preceded and influenced them. It’s vital that new readers have the opportunity to acquire the works of those Past Masters in a fair and legal marketplace. In addition, as pressure increases for the creation of a category of “orphan” works, works that are fair game if the copyright holder(s) can’t be found, it becomes even more important that a registry of contact information such as this be available as part of a diligent search.
Publishers, large and small, need to be aware of it so that they can make informed decisions, without wasting valuable time and resources hunting down the information every time it is needed. The same goes for anthologists, who often have to spend an enormous amount of time tracking down the rights to stories. The Estate Project makes all that possible, but we need your help, too.
Agents: We need to know when an estate is added, dropped, or amended by your firm. We would also appreciate it if you could pass along any information you might have from your clients’ projects, especially for the lesser-known authors and artists.
Anthologists: You know only too well how time-consuming and tiring it is to track down this information every time. The more authors and stories we have in the database, the easier we can make life for you.
Publishers: If rights are expiring, being renewed or otherwise changing on a work you have published, we would greatly appreciate a quick notification of this. This protects you and authors living and deceased.
Estates/heirs: Let us know if you are the heir of a literary estate so we can add you to the list.
This is an ongoing, constantly-updated resource. If you have information, questions or comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.