I started buying storage auctions in the middle of this year. In the third one I bought I ran across an unpublished manuscript for a fiction book U Boat treasure by Charles Hand.

He has no published works besides a boar hunter magazine, he was not an author. But this is complete 250 pages, never published. Like everything else I purchased in the storage, I own. If I throw it away, his work is gone forever. It is dedicated to submariners as well as his father.

I don't want to redo the contents or anything like that. Would I need to contact the family about it? It will need some going over make sure it's is grammatically correct but it is complete. I would begin the process of making this into an ebook right now if I know how to properly reference the author? He passed away this year and wife is deceased, does have children.

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    By "properly reference the author", I assume you intend to credit Charles Hand as the author?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 9:36
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    How long has it been since the author died? Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 14:07
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    Using google I found out that he passed away in January of 2019 as well as his wife a few months afterwards.
    – Rocky Pal
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:14
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    F1, yes, I want no credit other than just to publish this fun fictional story loosely based around his life experiences and goes back and forth between WWII and current times, I believe. I don't want to alter it in any way. And again, it is dedicated.
    – Rocky Pal
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:16
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    You own the manuscript. You don't own the copyright. You need to contact the author or his estate. The copyright extends for 70 years after the author's death.
    – user207421
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 1:22

3 Answers 3


You cannot publish the work without permission. It was copyrighted the moment it was written. The fact that you 'purchased' the manuscript is no defence. By that token I could 'publish' all the books I have purchased. You need to purchase the copyright from the family.

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    @RockyPal Sursey is correct, the copyright belongs to the author, if he is deceased, it belongs to his estate, whoever is the inheritor of his property, by will or if he died intestate, by State laws; generally blood relatives in some order. If all you can find is siblings, I'd start with them. You'd have to contact an attorney for a contract to transfer copyright; but I believe that is simple enough that some online legal services might be able to do it. Google online legal services, you can often get fee quotes from lawyers online for a simple contract you can rely on.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:03
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    @corsiKa depends on the jurisdiction which is not listed here. According to the Berne convention (which pretty much all the world has signed) it must be at least 50 years after the author's death, and it's quite likely to be 70 years after the author's death.
    – Peteris
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 22:03
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    @Peteris: Tying copyright to the author's death might be reasonable if authors had to register copyrights to receive that level of protection, but unfortunately the authors of the statutes failed to consider the absurdity of making copyright duration depend upon factors that may be impossible to ascertain. If someone in the year 2100 finds a manuscript that says "Copyright 1980 John Smith", with no other information about authorship, should they have to wait until every John Smith who was alive in 1980 has been dead for 70 years before they could safely publish it?
    – supercat
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 23:40
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    @supercat it's your duty to establish the identity of the author - after all, the copyright restrictions still apply even if there's no notice whatsoever, so if the manuscript says "Copyright 1980 John Smith", it's much easier to determine who's the author and when they died than if you found that manuscript and that notice wasn't there. So yes, there's little thought about safe publishing after the expiry.
    – Peteris
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 0:20
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    @DarcyThomas The physical manuscript itself is different than the right to reproduce it. If I go buy a copy of Harry Potter, I own the book, but I certainly don't have the right to make copies of it and publish it. I only own one book, while someone else owns the copyright. The storage company is entitled to recoup its unpaid fees by selling the physical items in the storage unit, but the copyright was never in the storage unit because its not a piece of physical property. Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 3:07

For what it's worth I think what you're trying to do is awesome!

As @Surtsey's answer (correctly) points out the work is still copyrighted regardless of the absence of an explicit copyright notice.

Assuming US copyright law applies here (you don't mention a locale so apologies if that is incorrect) then, unless some other entity had acquired it, ownership of the copyright passes to the author's heirs on their death and it's them that you'd need to contact in order to gain permission to publish the manuscript.

The company that operates the storage units might be the best place to start in terms of tracking them down.

You mention that the author died in 2019 - which means that the work won't be in the public domain yet (it will be in 2089 though).

Good luck!

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    Thank you! I reached out and found one of his daughters. We are to meet soon and I am giving her LOTS OF ITEMS I saved for 6 months now. Personal items and photos reaching into the 1800s, even a tin type of her family! I have her mother's wedding dress. I didn't have to do any of that. But I am sentimental and this storage left me feeling that need to give this family back their photos as well as tangible Items I saved. I hope to meet the one daughter soon. What is the proper way to get permission?
    – Rocky Pal
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:37
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    @RockyPal First up would be to have a conversation with the daughter - if she's amenable then you'll need a publishing rights contract drawn up. Some good info on that here, but as with anything relating to entering into contract consulting a lawyer is always wise. Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:43
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    How deep does permission go? If I get permission from one daughter, am I covered for the rest of the siblings? Saying this because I have only an open line of communication with the one daughter and have no info, no numbers, no facebook nothing on any of the other children I was lucky to find this lady who is in her 60s. Could I enter in a contract with the daughter? giving her or donating small % ? kicking the tires, again I don't want to see his work go unpublished. I may make $100 $1000 or 0 I have no idea I just want it read!
    – Rocky Pal
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 1:01
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    @RockyPal I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure you'd need to get permission from whoever it got given to in his will, if any, or from the executor of the estate, if it didn't get given to anyone in particular. Presumably the daughter could put you in contact with the person in question, if they're not that person themselves.
    – nick012000
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 15:34
  • @RockyPal while you're talking to the lawyer and/or daughter, find out what other historic bits and pieces you can surface into the public record too - for example those photos (or super-high-res scans of them) might be appreciated by museums.
    – i336_
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 8:42

This question addresses what I think you should do (not whether or not you can legally publish).

Make every effort you can to contact people who might care about the ms. That would be his family first, if you can find them.

A google search finds several organizations devoted to submariners. Here's one: http://www.isausa.org/ . They might be interested in publishing this, or at least preserving it in their archives or sharing with their members.

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    If a submariner organization can publish it, I feel I can. I am going to seek permission from a daughter.
    – Rocky Pal
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:38
  • @RockyPal Try to find whether the daughter is the sole heir: if not it might be a good idea to get permission from everybody. I'm sure that you've seen news articles about toxic family feuds, often involving disputed wills... Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 2:07

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