Can you give your digital books or movies to your heirs? Can your family gain access to your social media sites after your death to preserve your memories and content?
Our legal system hasn’t quite dealt with those questions. At the moment, the answers to those questions are probably no.
Two articles at the Wall Street Journal, both by Geoffrey A. Fowler, take on these questions:
- Life and Death Online: Who Controls a Digital Legacy?
- Why You Can’t Bequeath Your Digital Library
- (Both articles behind paywall.)
From what I can tell as a businessman (that means this discussion isn’t legal advice), you usually have a license to those books, movies, and songs you downloaded. As a result, you typically don’t have any legal ability to transfer ownership to another person, either though your estate or an outright sale.
Likewise, Mr. Fowler points out most social media sites don’t allow anyone other than the person setting up the site to access and use it. There are a variety of legal and privacy issues from letting people who claim to be family gain control over your site.
If the legal murkiness creates issues in your life circumstances, you need to take that murkiness into consideration and deal with it.
Mr. Fowler suggests two practical workarounds that people are using
Today, some people share passwords so others can access their accounts after death, or write clauses into their wills, though the legality of either is unclear.
In practical – but legally grey — terms, people who want to pass on or sell digital media files could simply hand over a computer or iPod filled with the digital media. And, as with other digital accounts, there’s nothing stopping someone from handing over account details and passwords before they pass away, allowing a survivor to continue accessing their libraries.
An extension of that idea would be to have your executor hand over your e-reader or tablet with your books & music to a specified heir. Turn off internet access on the device and read/listen/watch to your heart’s content. Might be worth checking with the estate’s attorney first.
Like I said, if this is an issue for your situation, figure out how you want to deal with it. Eventually, the legal rules will catch up with the technology.