Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Washington

A very famous celebrity, now deceased (a few years ago) wrote a passionate love letter to her equally famous husband, also now deceased, while they were leasing a home during the filming of a movie in the 1970s. Long after the couple left the home, the letter was found under the bed by the home's owner, who has kept the letter all this time but wishes to sell it.

My questions:

1. Who actually owns the letter: the possessor, or the celebrity's estate?

2. Is selling the letter itself—which may involve publishing it on a dealer's website or in a catalog—a violation of any US laws?

3. Are there other considerations one should be aware of?

Many thanks.

Asked on 8/07/13, 1:07 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

John Whitaker Whitaker Law Group

This is a good question. Without doing a LOT of research, my reaction is this: The home owner is the actual owner of the letter itself, meaning the piece of paper that constitutes the letter. However, the *copyright* in the letter would almost certainly be held by the estate of the celebrity.

What that means is that the letter itself could likely be sold by the homeowner, but it would be like selling a first edition print of a famous novel. Just because you buy one copy of the book doesn't give you the right to make more copies of the book.

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Answered on 8/07/13, 1:44 pm

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