Copyright Should Have A Limit For Certain Written Works That Went Out Of Print

Copyright Should Have A Limit For Certain Written Works That Went Out Of Print

People often ask me whether or not they should upload works of deceased authors to websites such as or

This is so self-evident that it even goes without saying: don’t infringe the Copyrights of others!

For any content that has not been genuinely created by yourself, get the written permission of the author before you upload a book or an article to the Internet.

And no need to explain here that when a book goes out of print, it is still protected by Copyright.

And a copyrighted work does also not become public domain when its owner dies. In modern copyright law, works made by individuals are protected for the author’s entire life plus a number of decades. Often 50 or even 70 years. When an author dies, just the ownership of the copyright changes.

Does Copyright Have A Limit?

But now I have a question: if a copyrighted work is not available and if the author is dead, why is it not allowed to post it on a public site, such as or

Yes, in the literal sense, this is a Copyright infringement. And the author´s heirs do not get their license fees or royalties, which is a sort of damage.

But the author wrote his work in order to have people read it. This is an important motive for me. When I am dead and if my heirs do not put in the effort to publish my own works, nobody will do that.

If my works are out of print and my website is down, few people will find my works, let alone read them. This is not theft from my point of view, the author. And seen from a Natural Law’s point of view, that is what matters.

But Copyright is not Natural Law. Copyright is Positive Law.

My guess is that only very few judges are aware of that difference. This Indian judge was aware of it

Positive Law Requires A Different Toolbox

It is widely recognized that there must be a balance between the legal consequences of Positive Law and societal goals. This is often emphasized by authors in the field of Intellectual Property. One example is Mathieu Demme who recently wrote about that in his recent article “Artificial Intelligence – Back to the Future of Patent Law” (p. 2, §3, click here).

That applies to the case of the copyrighted work not being available and the author being dead. Society has the interest to make these works available to the public, and not only for documenting historical data. Some governments run even archives for documents that are considered to have historical value.

So here is my raw thesis. Let’s amend Copyright law as follows: for written works of authors that are dead, the following applies: if their rightful heirs do not publish the author’s works then no Copyrights can be asserted against third parties that do so.

One could limit that to publications on a non-profit basis, such as free download from the Internet. This would probably not play any role in practice, but collectivists love to take such a fairness component into account when it is about disposing of other people’s property.



I do NOT encourage you to upload any content to if you do not have the right to do so. Maybe Copyright law will be changed in the future for that. But for now, don’t.

This is what I want and I am going to walk the first mile myself: if I die and if my heirs do not publish my works, then please feel free to publish them at will.

But don’t alter them.

You can even make a profit by publishing my un-altered works after I am dead and keep that profit for you. I am ok with that. I want to have my thoughts out there. And you should reap these fruits for yourself.

Please do so when I am dead.

And please help to defend the rights of other authors to be published after they are dead.


Martin “Natural” Schweiger

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