What Happens to Digital Content When We Die?
Right or wrong, good or bad, technology has made it possible for us to entertain ourselves every waking moment of every waking day. Whether we choose to “shuffle” through a thousand songs on I-Pod – watch a movie on Vudu.com – or read a novel on Kindle Fire; the benefits of downloadable technology are clear. Downloads provide the ability to store and transport mass quantities of information on singular and relatively small devices.
However, digital download technology has its downsides as well. Namely, that the technology has advanced so quickly laws concerning ownership rights have lagged. Only nineteen states have passed laws dealing with digital assets; and most of the laws only really deal with e-mail and social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and Google but not with digital content stored on devices like I-Pod, Nook or Kindle.
As a matter of fact, in the absence of laws, most states rely on the terms of service or privacy policies provided by the service that manages the assets; i.e. Apple, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.
Yet, many people own large and extensive collections of downloads. These collections are worth a great deal of money; and so it only makes sense these people would like their collections to be made available to their heirs in the event of death.
Be that as it may, most if not all of the aforementioned user agreements deny the buyer the right to bequeath digital content. The terms of service state the buyer isn’t purchasing digital content, but instead is purchasing a license to use the content. In other words, the license doesn’t give the person the right to transfer content to anyone else, for any reason, ever. So, when the person expires the license expires with them.
As a remedy, some estate planning attorneys have suggested setting up trusts to purchase online content. The thinking is that if the trust owns the content, the contract will not expire with the person. … Of course, these trusts have never been tested.
Nevertheless, it may provide comfort knowing people do legally have the right to bequeath devices containing digital content. They also have the ability to pass along account passwords.
Regardless of how our laws progress, one thing is for certain; technology has provided us the means to keep entertained while we wait and see.
For more information about trusts or other estate planning documents, please contact a qualified estate planning attorney.