A recent article in the Wall Street Journal called “Who inherits your iTunes library?” discusses the legal issues surrounding inheritance of digital media at death. 

People are increasingly buying books, music and movies in digital format. Over their lifetime, some people will amass enormous collections worth significant amounts of money. 

Although no one would want their digital media collections to go to waste upon their death, leaving them to your family or loved ones could prove difficult. Digital content does not provide the buyer the same rights as with print books and CDs. Purchasers of digital content simple own a license to use the digital files. These are nontransferable rights to use the content – so even if they can be passed onto one person, they probably cannot be divided amongst different beneficiaries of your estate. Apple, for instance, limits the use of its digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder. 

The law has been slow to address the myriad of issues raised by digital assets. Some States in the U.S. have passed laws to allow executors and relatives access to email and social networking accounts, but there are no laws that cover digital content.

One lawyer in the U.S. is creating software to help estate planners create legal trusts for clients’ online accounts that hold digital media. Other alternatives include simple leaving your devices and passwords for your loved ones to use after you’re gone. Many experts are calling for legal reforms to allow for digital assets to be transferred to another person’s account or to be divided amongst several people. 

While this may not seem to be a pressing issue for someone like me who has a rather limited digital library (I doubt any of my friends or family will be fighting over my digital complete series of Frasier), it will become increasingly important in the coming years. Consumers in the U.S. are currently spending almost $30.00 or $360.00 a year on e-books and music files. This number is likely to increase in the future. Companies like Apple and Amazon will not likely push for change – after all, if your collection can be passed onto others, they will lose future sales opportunities. So it will be up to legislators to create laws that are fair and protect the interests of digital consumers.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Moira Visoiu – Click here for more information on Moira Visoiu