Editorial: I want that music: Certain digital assets, worth money, should be transferable after death

DigitalAssetsComicIn a typical day, how many online or digital accounts does a person access?

Most of us have at least 10 profiles and accounts we use on a daily basis all with different security settings and passwords (or variations of the same password). Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email accounts and not to mention the several Baylor accounts we need just to function in school have bogged down our lives with the constant need for connection to the cyber-world. We don’t mean to get overly morbid, but what honestly happens to all of this when you die?

In a world increasingly dominated by lives reflected in money transferred online, judges and lawyer are facing problems figuring out how digital assets should be taken care of after a person dies. Things like Facebook, iTunes and other common online accounts are being handled in haphazard ways after the death of their owners, sparking the debate of whether online accounts that are worth considerable sums of money should be considered digital assets that can be granted to family or a specific person expressed in a will, sold at estate sales or simply dissolved back into the company that sold or registered the person in that account.

Valuable accounts like Facebook, iTunes, ebooks and other online networks should be fair game for anyone who wants to take or buy it if the person did not give express instructions in their will and testament.

Once something is paid in full, be it online or otherwise, that item is owned and can be given away in the same process as a tangible object.

But first we need to narrow down the list of what this can actually apply to. We’re not talking about someone’s World of Warcraft, Second Life or any other role-playing accounts.

Facebook and other social networking sites should be automatically deleted upon a person’s death to reduce the risk of identity theft and other exploitation by third parties. Though a person may have invested time and money into a solely digital product, the product may still be worth nothing in the tangible world.

However, some accounts are worth more than others and should be considered just as equitable as tangible objects upon a person’s death. For example, iTunes or Amazon accounts can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They contain music, videos and podcasts that people have bought.

The problem with this is that when you buy music and videos on iTunes or Amazon, in the terms of purchase (that no one ever reads), it basically states that you are buying a limited license (or rights) for that digital content.

This limited license, while giving strength to piracy laws, proves to be a problem in estate planning. The person who bought the online content is essentially buying a lifelong lease on the product, not ownership of the song or video itself.

Though this may be rightfully cautious and well meaning on the side of the online service providers, it dupes the buyer in the end. When you buy records, CDs or DVDs, it’s perfectly OK to give it away, sell it (under some restrictions) or destroy it if you want.

The same should apply to the online content we buy. We know this would make piracy a lot harder to regulate, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

The principle of the matter is when you buy something, you should own it, whether it be a mansion, a car, an ebook or $5,000 worth of songs and videos on iTunes.