The textbooks published in the USSR had their copyright listed as "The Ministry of Education of the USSR." I am not interested in the "author rights." I am only interested in the copyright rights (a distinction that is probably more relevant to Germany than it is to the US anyway).

The UN view on successor states is that all states inheriting territory of a country become successor states unless (or until) such status is changed through bilateral agreements.

While the Russian Federation is considered a de facto successor state in most contexts, that's not good enough in legal contexts in which exact transfer of ownership needs to be established.

The link above states that Ukraine (by law) considers itself to be a successor state to the USSR. Which would suggest that it has not abandoned its right to inherit intellectual property owned by the USSR.

Is there is a clear case precedent on how this would play out in a US court? For example, let's say someone produces a derivative work (such as a translation) of an old Soviet textbook, but would only secure a permission to produce derivative works from the government of Ukraine. Would they be able to publish and distribute the translation commercially? Or would they also need to get a permission from the government of the Russian Federation?

Again, I am asking if there is precedent on this topic, not what the prevailing opinions are. Although, of course, if the legislation on the subject is clear and unambiguous, it would be useful to know that, too.

  • The answer may depend on the date of publication.
    – phoog
    Apr 15, 2022 at 11:49
  • @phoog these were schoolbooks used in all 1-10 (or 1-11) school classes in all of the USSR. They were continuously published. So presumably there is a copy with a copyright for every year.
    – wrod
    Apr 15, 2022 at 18:59
  • 1
    Related: Do communist-era state-published books fall under copyright protection?
    – user35069
    Sep 12, 2022 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


It’s no different from the multiple heirs of a dead author

Copyright is jointly owned. That is, each of the successor states of the USSR own the copyright together.

What joint authors may do with the work depends on the jurisdiction. For example, in the US, any joint author can do anything with the work so long as they account to the others for their share of the profits. In Australia, joint authors must agree unanimously to do anything with the work.

  • What is the precise meaning of "account" in this answer? Inform or share the proceeds?
    – wrod
    Apr 15, 2022 at 10:34
  • @wrod "account" is the word used in the statute. It is not defined in the law. Once a co-author disclosed any profits, the other co-authors can demand their shares or sue. Thus disclosure amounts to an obligation to share. Apr 27, 2022 at 21:43
  • @DavidSiegel not necessarily- account means disclose the income and share it in any way the authors agree (which may mean not sharing or sharing unequally).
    – Dale M
    Apr 27, 2022 at 21:45
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    @Dale that is why i wrote "their shares", meaning whatever shares their agreement provides. If co-authors have no specific agreement, I belive that the default is equal shares. Apr 27, 2022 at 21:50
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    @wrod That depends on the country involved. Under US law, any co author may grant a non-exclusive license, but granting an exclusive license requires agreement of all co-authors. In some EU countries, any grant requires consent of all authors. And either of these rules can be changed by an agreement among the authors. They can agree to allow a spokes-author to make exclusive deals on their joint behalf if they so choose. They can agree to require joint consent even for a one-time non-exclusive license if they so choose. In US or EU, they can make and enforce any agreement they choose. Apr 28, 2022 at 3:38

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