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The wikipedia page on Copyright transfer mentions that in "some countries, a transfer of copyright is not legally allowed, and only licensing is possible".

Does this also apply to the copyright after death (in such jurisdictions)? Do only the exploitation rights transfer onto the creator's heirs?

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  • Which country? Laws differ.
    – Dale M
    Jan 11 at 12:38
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    @DaleM Anyway, the Wikipedia page mentions France e.g. as a country where "moral rights last indefinitely", and it also happens to be one of those countries where (active) copyright transfer is not possible so just using France as an example would be totally OK as an answer.
    – phk
    Jan 11 at 13:15
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    I don't find the word "France" on that Wikipedia page.
    – phoog
    Jan 14 at 12:59
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    @phoog But now that I think about it, authorship itself cannot be transferred anywhere, it's always some rights which originally only the author has, such as the one to create copies and so it's called the copy-right… But is there then a difference between transferring someone copyright and giving someone an exclusive license (possibly with the promise to not make use of this right oneself)? I am confused.
    – phk
    Jan 14 at 15:49
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    Right. Anywhere that recognizes so-called "moral rights" doesn't allow their transfer. But "economic rights," including the right to exploit the work by making copies and selling them, are transferable, at least in the small number of copyright codes with which I am familiar. The thing about France is that it has identified the right to withdraw the work from publication as a moral right that cannot be transferred.
    – phoog
    Jan 14 at 17:09

1 Answer 1

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French copyright law for posthumous works (a book) quotes the relevant bit of French law. This shows why transfer of copyright is impossible: the law states explicitly who owns the copyright. A contract cannot change this.

So, after the death of an author the heirs own the copyright, not because it was part of the estate, but because copyright law states so.

I don't see a specific restriction on just the transfer of economic rights, but the moral right to be acknowledged as the author (droit de paternité) is a moral right that by its very nature does not lend itself to transfer. The right to stop distribution however is transferred. Perpetual licenses are impossible.

So, with that in mind, the Stack Overflow terms ("any and all content [...] is perpetually and irrevocably licensed to Stack Overflow") are void in France.

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  • License is not transfer, so the comment on the terms seems incorrect.
    – phoog
    Jan 14 at 12:22
  • @phoog: License is indeed not transfer. But there are 3 parties here: the author, the heir and the licensee (i.e. Stack Overflow). The author-heir relation is at best transfer-like, not a true transfer. This relation is distinct from the licensor-licensee relation. Authors cannot bind their heirs to existing licenses.
    – MSalters
    Jan 14 at 12:36
  • "Authors cannot bind their heirs to existing licenses": why not? I don't see anything saying that in the French copyright code.
    – phoog
    Jan 14 at 13:01
  • "the law states explicitly who owns the copyright. A contract cannot change this": French copyright law certainly does contemplate the transfer of certain rights, obviously not including moral rights, by contract. An example is legifrance.gouv.fr/codes/article_lc/…
    – phoog
    Jan 14 at 13:19
  • @phoog: It's a general principle in contract law that you cannot bind third parties. There's no need to restate that specifically for copyright licenses. The (presumed) heirs are not a party to the license between the original author and any licensee. On the death of the author, French copyright law gives the moral right to stop further publication to the heirs. That's a right granted directly to the heirs by copyright law.
    – MSalters
    Jan 14 at 14:57

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