iPass Away – Do My Digital Downloads Die With Me?

iPass away – do my digital downloads die with me? (Which Conversation, Feb. 20, 2012):

If you’ve built up a proud collection of books, records and DVDs, you’d expect to be able to pass them on to your next of kin. But what happens to all of the downloads you’ve paid for during your life?

The digital afterlife is an uncertain business, it seems. We challenged both Apple and Amazon on whether digital downloads could be passed on after death, and neither could give us a definitive answer.

As more and more purchases are made in a digital, rather than physical form, we think it’s time for the main digital retailers to clear up our rights to pass on property we’ve paid for.

Purchasing a product, or renting a licence?

As it stands, the rights of iTunes and Amazon customers look pretty shaky when it comes to passing on downloads. If you buy a music track from a digital store, you’re essentially buying a licence to play that track – a licence granted to you only, which isn’t transferable upon death.

Legally you’re essentially just renting tracks – you don’t actually own them, as Matthew Strain of law firm Strain-Keville pointed out to us in the latest issue of Which? Computing:

‘We do not “own” what we purchase on iTunes, we only have the right to use it. The right to the “product” is therefore limited and passing it on to someone else is not likely to be accepted by Apple.’

The issue extends to the rapidly-growing ebooks market as well – Amazon’s Kindle licence explicitly forbids you from passing on your downloaded ebooks:

‘Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sublicence or otherwise assign any rights to the digital content or any portion of it to a third party.’

Bequeathing your account passwords

So is there any way around this? The short answer is, yes and no.

It’s easy to pass on a physical device like an iPod or a Kindle, which will have music or books loaded onto it. However, if this device needed updating by accessing an account, the new owner could be left vulnerable to losing everything.

Ok, so why not simply hand over your account passwords, letting your next of kin access your iTunes or Amazon purchases? While this sounds simple, it can actually qualify as a breach of the T&Cs agreed upon when you set up an account. Matthew Strain explains:

‘Allowing others to have your account details is a breach of security as the contract sees it. This is not a direct breach of the terms of the contract, but Apple may take the view that it is and terminate your account privileges.’

The Cloud makes things foggier

Increasingly, the idea of storing files on a device you carry around with you will seem outdated – the move to Cloud storage, where files are stored remotely, makes it more essential than ever that we know where we stand when it comes to passing on paid-for downloads.

After all, if all of your files are stored remotely, and only accessible by you (according to a contract you signed when opening your account), handing your digital purchases over to loved ones upon your death becomes even more difficult.

Shouldn’t we be free to pass on our downloads to whomever we choose, just as they would with a physical product? As it stands, all of the rights seem stacked against the us.

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