Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, December 3, 2012

Frost's Estate Blocks Use of Poem Because of Copyright

TrustsThe Estate of Robert Frost is one estate that has renewed its copyrights of his poems and does pursue those who fail to obtain a license before using the late-poet's works. The problem for these who have opted to use Frost's poems is that they seem to not know that the author's works are still under copyright. In one instance, a songwriter named Eric Whitacre wanted to place Frost's poem "Stopping By Woods" to music and did even so. While it is unclear whether the songwriter thought that Frost's poem was in the public domain or thought that he had a license to use the work, the fact is that the estate stopped him from using the work. This was even more tragic after it was discovered that Frost's estate never properly renewed the copyright for that poem, only the book in which the work appears. Later, Whitacre would admit that he did fail to gain permission from the estate to use the work. Whitacre thought, admittedly naive on his part, that because the estate had hired someone to set some of Frost's poems to work to music earlier anyone could do that. If Whitacre still wants to use "Stopping By Woods" he must wait until 2038 when the copyright expires. Thankfully for Whitacre, another poet named Charles Anthony Silvestri wrote new words for his song and saved the piece.

See Virginia Postrel, Robert Frost's Estate Does Use Copyright to Crush Use of "Stopping By Woods...", Dynamist Blog, Nov. 30, 2012.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.


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If the Frost estate failed to renew copyright on stopping by woods on a snowy evening, does that mean that that poem is in the public domain?

Posted by: Adam R Morris | Oct 14, 2017 12:56:33 AM

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