Copyright question when publication is out of business

I used to write for a newspaper; let’s call it the BV. The paper was later (after I left) bought out by a large newspaper company, and changed names. It is now out of business, under any name.

I know that what I wrote for the BV while an employee (or intern, or even as a freelance writer) was copyrighted by the BV, and owned by them. It said so right in the masthead.

Now that it’s out of business, does the copyright ownership of my articles revert to me? Could I legally re-publish them in another publication?

I don’t see how I could get permission from the original copyright holder, because the original company has been dissolved. Did the company who bought the original paper also obtain and retain all copyrights to all material ever contained within, including that contained even before they bought the BV?

I’ve tried researching the copyright laws myself, but apparently, it takes a lifetime to decipher the jargon.

Thanks in advance for any input,

Can you contact the old editor and ask him?

This has happened to me a couple of times, but I was lucky to get letters of “reversion of rights” in a timely fashion.

Gut instinct is that the rights belong to whoever holds the receivership rights to the newspaper. Even if it isn’t in business any more, someone owns the rights to the name, the assets, etc. They own your articles. Try to find 'em and make a deal.


Assuming we are talking about a “work for hire” (you were an employee doing what you were hired to do), then just think of the copyright as an office chair. (If it wasn’t a work for hire, then you may have reversion rights after a number of years, but that is another question).

Who ownes the office chairs now? One company sold all of its assets to another. Then that second company went out of business. Did a bankruptsy court distribute the property? Are there still unpaid creditors? Did the shareholders divide up whatever was left?

Anyway, my point is that this is not a copyright question. This is a property question. Copyrights are treated just like any other property. Perhaps you can get the trustee in bankruptsy to assign you the copyrights for $100. Perhaps there is a state statute that deals with unclaimed property.

The answers so far are pretty much correct. This is a copyright question, though, not a property question. As an employee your writing is defined as work for hire. Work for hire belongs to the corporation or its successors.

The copyright office has a .pdf Circular on the subject.

Unless you had a specific termination clause written into your contract with the paper, you will have to find whoever bought up the company’s intellectual property to see if you can buy back your rights.