Most members of the public do not realise that most 'works of creation' such as art, writing, films and music remain the copyright of the creator for their whole life and then form part of their estate for up to 90 years thereafter.

That is why such stars as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are richer now than when they were alive with annual incomes of £40 million and £70m respectively.

It was only last year that the courts declared that the iconic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation of Sherlock Holmes is now in the public domain, meaning that anyone can write a new Holmes story or portray him without paying a licensing fee to his estate. However, it has been a long time coming as Doyle died in 1930 but had created Holmes much earlier.

Even these words I am writing are copyright to me, as a freelance writer, but I hardly imagine they will ever make my estate a fortune when I kick the bucket.

The image rights can make long-dead film stars a valuable asset and rake in fortunes for those lucky relatives or someone named in their wills.

Who has not heard of Marilyn Monroe, including today's teenagers, even though she died in 1962, aged only 36? Marilyn died young which helps create a legend and of course in somewhat strange circumstances allows the conspiracy theorists a field day. Her image still sells worldwide generating an income of £11m a year to people who are not relatives or even knew her personally.

Another 1950s icon James Dean was killed at only 24 years old some 60 years ago in 1955 in a car crash. He was rapidly emerging as a big star and left three classic 50s films - Rebel without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant. Today his method style of acting seems a bit dated but he became an idol to teenagers of that era and has never lost his cult status. In fact, his tombstone has been stolen more than once and is now secured by concrete and iron rods as thousands still make a pilgrimage to his grave. Today he would be in his mid-80s and I wonder if his career would have survived, as did his contemporaries like Paul Newman and Dennis Hopper. Dean's estate still generates an income of £5.5m a year for a relative.

Who remembers Steve McQueen who was a big star in the 1960s and 1970s? His estate still earns nearly £6m a year, although personally I think he is now less remembered than Monroe or Dean. The thing all three stars had in common was that they endured sad and young deaths.

Steve died after a long battle with cancer in 1980 and had he lived would be 85 this year. I certainly enjoyed watching him in The Sand Pebbles, The Great Escape, Bullitt and Towering Inferno. Apparently on the latter, Steve demanded a huge fee, equal billing with Paul Newman and the same number of words to speak on screen as Newman.

I have only ever written non-fiction books and articles which tend to make little impact so some distant relative of mine will not make a fortune out of me when I join the above stars in the great film studio in the sky. Indeed I am willing to bet they will not make a penny.

I must admit I do envy J K Rowling for creating Harry Potter, Ian Fleming for dreaming up James Bond and Conan Doyle for giving us Holmes. I envy not the money they generated but the skill in creating a character that captures the public imagination and stand the test of time.

Incidentally, you may be relieved to hear that I have read this year the song Happy Birthday has at last come into public domain, although Warner Music, who owned the copyright since 1988, may be less happy as it generated a royalty income of about $2million a year.

Finally, a sad farewell to Warren Mitchell who will be forever remembered by my generation as Alf Garnett but was also a fine character actor who often worked at Elstree from the 1950s onwards. In this politically correct era I can't imagine a series like To Death Us Do Part, which is a shame if you understood the real message behind that series. I met Warren once at Elstree Studios and it was sad he spent his last years in poor health.