Who Ownes A Suicide Note?

Unfortunately a client recently had occasion to ask me this question, so this post by Eugene Volokh caught my eye:

Slate’s Explainer says thusly:

A suicide note is a tangible item that was owned by the person who committed suicide; the property rights in it, as with all other property, go to the person’s heirs under the will or under intestate succession rules (if the person died without a will). The government may well have considerable rights to hold on to the tangible item for quite a while, because it’s evidence in the investigation of the person’s death. But that doesn’t mean the government now “owns” the note, only that the law allows it to keep temporary custody of the tangible item.

The same is true of the suicide note as a copyrightable work. Any note that’s longer than a few words is protected by copyright, even if there’s no copyright notice; that work is originally owned by the author, but when the author dies it goes to the author’s heirs. The government’s temporary custody of the note may physically block others from copying the copyrighted work, but the government doesn’t own the copyrighted work.

Read the rest of the post here.

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