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One of my friends passed away about a year ago and left me some manuscripts. A rough draft and without a proper ending. I was wondering if I should finish it and how. Should I take the draft and just correct some spelling and grammar mistakes and plug the holes with makeshift sentences, or should I rewrite it all?

He didn't give me the legal rights to it, but I thought about publishing it on a fan-fiction website or something after I am done with it. I thought it would be a good exercise.

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    First and foremost, what impression did your friend leave you with for what they would have wanted done with it? - If you can answer that then answers to your main question can become a little more obvious as to what avenues to look down. – TheLuckless Mar 2 '19 at 0:15
  • He actually gave me a draft he had written like a long time ago when I told him I started writing a short story, and told me he gave up, because he couldn't think of a good ending, and thought it was junk, but I thought it wasn't all that bad, and I could finish it for him. – repomonster Mar 2 '19 at 0:22
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Unless you were given written permission to finish the MSS, leave it as it is. It was probably given to you to read, not rewrite.

If you feel compelled to write it, use it to inspire your own work and create something original in his memory.

Talk to your friend’s family and ask their advice and permission - just don’t call it an exercise as that diminishes its value to nothing more than practice for you.

I would respect the friend’s memory enough to leave it as he left it - unfinished and his, not complete and revamped.

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  • I mean, yes, it's the safer thing to do, but I thought it would be ok if I published it in the public domain and didn't monetize it. I heard that one of Franz Kafka's novels was published posthumously by a friend without his consent. – repomonster Mar 2 '19 at 0:47
  • @repomonster: But as far as I know, Kafka's stories are published essentially unchanged. In particular, his unfinished stories are left unfinished. – celtschk Mar 2 '19 at 13:38
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You absolutely can not publish this without permission. It doesn't matter if you make no money off of it. Putting something in the public domain doesn't it make it better (and might make it worse).

Your friend was the sole copyright holder (I assume) when he was alive. When he died, the work did not stop having a copyright holder. The new copyright holder is the person he designated. If he did not designate someone, then it is his next of kin.

His spouse is first, then his child, then his parents, then his siblings, then other relatives. This is the legal order and note that only legal relationships count, not unmarried partners, not chosen siblings. (At least where I live...the order may be different elsewhere but the basic idea is the same.)

If you get permission from the copyright holder to go ahead, I recommend also asking anyone very close to him who might care (like an unmarried partner).

Put the permission in writing. Do not rely on goodwill or people's memories. Be very clear exactly what you're asking for and what will happen to any money that might come out of it. Create a page, print out two copies, sign both copies. One copy goes to the copyright holder, the other one goes to you after the other party has signed it.

The best you can get is a full transfer of copyright to you for all of the works in your possession. Ask for that, but settle for less.

I recommend the following steps:

  1. Go through everything your friend gave you and make a full inventory.
  2. Find out who owns the copyright.
  3. Have an informal conversation with the copyright holder.
  4. Create a contract and have it signed.
  5. Alter and submit the work as you desire, in accordance with the terms of the contract.
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  • A minor point: the legal order of intestate inheritance depends on local law, and is not the same in every jurisdiction But it doesn't matter much for this answer, because the real point is that someone will have inherited the copyright. If there is no other heir, they will escheat to the state. . For example, the copyrights to H. Beam Piper's works were held for some years by the State of Pensylvania after his death, which significantly delayed contracts for reprinting some of them. – David Siegel Mar 5 '19 at 23:23
  • @DavidSiegel Thanks. I edited my post to reflect your comment. I had a friend who died with no heirs and no will. He took some steps before committing suicide to make sure his home and car went to people he had chosen but he didn't do it right (all he had to do was write it down and sign it) and the state took everything. The friends he wanted to help (not me but people who really needed it) got nothing, despite my speaking to the guy at the state office and explaining there were many of us who had been told his wishes. It's all about what's on paper. – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 6 '19 at 1:36

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