September 4, 2012
Can An Individual Bequeath Digital Media?
Not too long ago Market Watch asked the musical question of what happens to digital files when the owner passes away. It’s a valid question in this day of consumptive devices where libraries of music, books, and other content reside in a marketer’s cloud. This isn’t much of an issue on a device with a few hundred or more songs, and books. But, as the article suggests, someone with 10,000 purchased songs and books has a serious chunk of change invested in media. Potential heirs may want some of that.
The answer is likely that the files are not transferrable, at least in a legal sense. It is possible to keep the account going I suppose if one’s password to the iTunes or other proprietary store is known to loved ones. That seems a bit impractical given that consuming devices are designed for obsolescence. There is a likely point where the combination of devices and accounts cannot be sustained. Backing up to physical media would be an option depending on the amount of DRM applied to a file. Music is less of a problem than e-books as there are any number of file formats for sale that lend themselves to archiving. Books, on the other hand, are so locked down that it would take essentially illegal means to pass the files down to others.
The article notes that one attorney is proposing a digital trust where passwords and other account information are stored for the benefit of loved ones. I have a feeling that content providers wouldn’t be sympathetic to transferring digital product from one generation to another. That would mean lost, uh, sales of limited licenses to access content under certain conditions. It’s an interesting question that the law has not addressed. There aren’t even papers on the topic in SSRN, at least not which directly examine the question.
Physical media may be on the wane in the age of the cloud. It has one advantage, however, in that it can be given away without recourse to the people who created the content. [MG]