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What should I do if I need to use part of a previous researcher's work (e.g. an instrument or a questionnaire) who passed away?

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    The title and body ask two different questions. Copyright is a property right that can be inherited. For the title question you would need to find out who inherited the copyright, and seek permission from them. If you can't reach the copyright owner you have a harder problem. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 11 '16 at 14:14
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    I edited it. My question is about taking permission from an author who passed away. – Elmahy Nov 11 '16 at 15:23
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    How do you plan to "use part of his work"? For some uses you might not need permission at all. – Tom van der Zanden Nov 11 '16 at 15:24
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Find out who inherited his copyright, and ask them for permission.

If he's long dead, his copyright may have expired and the work entered the public domain, but this period depends on governing law, jurisdiction, and numerous other variables. A century since the death of the author is probably a safe buffer but not infallible (and gets riskier the more well-known the author or work is).

Better to find the copyright notice for the work and follow the thread from there to the current holder.

  • +1 I think the question is too broad for there to possibly be a good comprehensive answer, but your final point about starting at the copyright notice and taking it from there is sensible advice. – Ian_Fin Nov 11 '16 at 14:34
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    Another approach is to contact the publisher. If they don't own the copyright they need to know who does, and how to contact them. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 11 '16 at 15:28
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If you wish to use published results, contact the publisher.

If you wish to use unpublished results, contact the relatives.

After 60-70 years after the author's death, depending on the country, you can use his/her stuff freely. For patents, it's less.

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