What will become of my digital music, movies and books when I die? I am getting ready for a trip. Part of planning for the trip was deciding what audiobooks to download from Audible.com, what eBooks to download from Amazon, and what movies to download from iTunes. While making these hard decisions, I paused briefly to reflect on how amazing it is that I can store all of these things in the cloud or directly on my iPad or iPhone. I can now keep in my pocket a vast library of music, books and videos that would have taken up all of my cabinets and shelves in home only a few years ago. (Speaking of which, the cabinets in my built-in entertainment nook are completely empty and have been for years. My wife has considered storing the kids’ artwork in them). While I was gazing into the half-distance, reflecting on the digital age, it suddenly occurred to me that I have not updated my will since my third son was born. As my mind tried to cope with the sudden turn, the two thoughts collided and resulted in, “How will my boys divide up my digital library when I am dead?” I am the holder of the password (I don’t think my wife knows it), and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in family entertainment locked in the cloud.
Having discovered a gap in my legal knowledge, I did what any well-educated professional does when faced with a unique question, I googled it. The majority of my search results were articles from 2012. Each of the articles pointed out that the purveyors of digital entertainment have airtight user agreements that very clearly state that they are selling a non-transferable license. If you cannot transfer it, then you cannot bequeath it. My iTunes library is going to disappear when I die! This cannot be right! It’s not fair!
The first page of my search results contained some interesting information. Apparently, in September of 2012, there was a rumor that Bruce Willis was planning to sue iTunes for the right to transfer his iTunes library to his kids upon his death. There were also quite a few articles pointing out that Bruce Willis denied the rumors. I did get one result from 2014, an article on Slate.com by Ariel Bogle. Ms. Bogle does an excellent job covering this topic.
Ms. Bogle’s article, as well as others I found, point out that there are creative ways to get around this particular problem. One such way, although a bit ridiculous from a practical standpoint, is to create a trust or corporate entity with which to buy digital entertainment. Keep in mind, you could not transfer anything into the trust or corporation; you would have to create it, provide it with the capital, create online accounts, then purchase the digital materials in the name of the trust/corporation. What fun! The low-tech solution, though technically a breach of the user agreement, is to make sure that your heirs have your current username and password. “To my first son of my only marriage, I do hereby bequeath ‘CowboysChamps1996’ and all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities connected therewith.” I cannot wait to add something like that to the next will I draft.
The only permanent solution to this problem will be through the enactment of legislation. The iPod was first released in 2001. I was 23 at the time and did not purchase an iPod for another six years. My iTunes library has been increasing at an exponential rate over the past six years and is likely valued at well over $1,000. That does not include the apps on my iPhone and iPad, nor does it include my eBook collection on my Kindle. It should be safe to say that by the time I am in my 80’s, I will have over $10,000 worth of digital content. That is a lot of money. I and other old men who vote will have to become more politically active in our old age. I will make it my personal mission to ensure that my iTunes library will carry on after I am dead. I suspect that the laws will change before I die. I would rather put my efforts behind introducing legislation rather than incorporate “Jacob’s iTune Library, Inc.” Rock the vote!!!
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