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Death and free software (was Re: DFSG...)

Federico Di Gregorio wrote:
  >I don't know what happens to copyrights if the author dies.

Copyright endures for either 60 or 70 (which?) years from the original
author's death.  It is owned by his heirs.

Quite what happens in the event of the death of an author of free
software has never, to my knowledge, been determined.  In the case of
ordinary copyrights (books, films, etc.) the heirs would take an interest
because of the income.  It is unlikely that they would be interested
in free software, but it might be difficult to get consent from them
for anything, because there would be no incentive for them to take the
trouble.  The licence would drop into a sort of limbo until the
copyright expired.

It would be helpful if authors of free software added a clause to the
licences to govern their disposition on the author's death: put the
software into the public domain, transfer to FSF or SPI, or whatever.
Alternatively, make a will and set down in that what should happen
and ensure that the executors are obliged to publicise it!

Most software writers are relatively young and probably have not thought
about this issue at all.  Just remember, it could be you under that bus!

Oliver Elphick                                Oliver.Elphick@lfix.co.uk
Isle of Wight                              http://www.lfix.co.uk/oliver
               PGP key from public servers; key ID 32B8FAA1
     "Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made  
      heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, 
      the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, 
      and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all;
      and the host of heaven worshippeth thee."            
                                        Nehemiah 9:6 

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