In this age of rapidly changing technology and widespread use of the internet, many people gather large collections of digital music and e-books that they would, naturally, wish to leave to their loved ones once they are gone.
However, whilst it is fairly easy to pass on printed books, vinyl records and CDs to your successors, bequeathing digital files might prove a difficult and costly exercise, legal experts claim. This is largely because one has ownership rights over tangible assets but only rights to use (not actually own) digital assets.
The laws on inheriting digital content are still evolving and need to quickly adapt to modern reality. Several US states, including Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Indiana and Connecticut, have adopted rules to enable executors and heirs to access e-mails and social media accounts of deceased persons, but the laws do not cover digital files.
Amazon.com and Apple currently give "non transferable" rights for use of digital content. Amazon does not grant ownership rights to music or software and the technology giant, Apple, restricts the use of digital content solely to Apple devices used by the account holder.
Experts say there are still very few legal ways to inherit digital content. David Goldman, a lawyer in Jacksonville, is on track to reap the benefits of a market that is set to thrive, the Wall Street Journal reported in late August. Goldman will shortly launch special software, DapTrust, to help estate planning experts set up a legal trust to store and manage the online accounts and passwords of their clients. The lawyer plans to sell his software directly to estate planners at a cost of $150, claiming it differs from existing online safe deposit boxes like ExecutorSource and AssetLock as it contains instructions on the creation of a legal trust for digital accounts. A simpler way of doing it would be to use the accounts and devices of your loved ones after they pass away, but you need to know the right passwords to do so.
Meanwhile, Hollywood actor Bruce Willis is considering a legal fight against Apple over the ownership of his vast music library on iTunes, which he would like to pass to his daughters one day, and has reportedly instructed his advisers to create a trust for his music to get round the Apple policy. A potential legal success against Apple would probably make technology companies revisit their policies and ideally give increased rights to consumers to bequeath digital assets.