Delaware Passes Law Granting Residents The Right To Pass On Digital Goods To Their Heirs

from the because-of-course-people-should-have-this-right dept

As rights holders have made clear time and time again, your digital purchases are never truly yours. If someone decides to shut down a service, it's likely your purchases will vanish into the ether along with the service itself. If you want to resell your mp3s or ebooks, you're facing any number of unsettled legal questions and various industries pushing the assertion that your money was exchanged for a limited use license, rather than the acquisition of a product.

But there may be some changes forthcoming. As The Digital Reader reports (via Ars Technica), Delaware has just passed a law that allows its residents to pass their digital purchases licenses on to their heirs.

Last week Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill (HB) 345, “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act”, giving heirs and the executors to estates the same rights over digital content which they would have over physical property.

In a case of life imitating art, the new law basically accomplishes what the Daily Mail fictitiously reported in 2012 that Bruce Willis wanted to accomplish; ebooks and other digital content can now be inherited.
That's one small right restored. While rights holders still demand real money for permission to use their offerings in pre-approved ways, at least a few people in the US won't have the lives of their digital goods expire along with them.

The clunkily-titled Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act law does the following:
The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act solves the problem using the concept of “media neutrality.” If a fiduciary would have access to a tangible asset, that fiduciary will also have access to a similar type of digital asset. UFADAA governs four common types of fiduciaries: personal representatives of a deceased person’s estate; guardians or conservators of a protected person’s estate; agents under a power of attorney; and trustees.

UFADAA defers to an account holder’s privacy choices as expressed in a document (such as a will or trust), or online by an affirmative act separate from the general terms-of-service agreement. Therefore, an account holder’s desire to keep certain assets private will be honored under UFADAA.
Even so, the ruling is very limited. Tech companies outside of Delaware will not be affected.
The new law in Delaware only affects Delaware residents and will be probated there. It does not affect the tech companies registered in the state, according to one spokesperson. “If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345,” Kelly Bachman, a spokesperson for the Delaware governor’s office, said by email.
Some goods, like purchases, can be passed on. Online accounts will likely remain out of reach for now. The Uniform Law Commission is pushing for adoption of these sorts of laws elsewhere, so there could be more of this in the future. Things are looking up a bit for consumers, it would seem.
Year by year, consumers are gaining more rights over the digital content they buy. If this trend continues then it won’t be long before consumers have the same rights over digital content as they do over physical goods.
There's still a long way to go before an iTunes accounts resembles a box full of CDs or records and there's still too many here-today-gone-tomorrow platforms/services selling what amounts to limited digital access instead of actual products, but a small restoration of the right of first sale is still a step in the right direction. The real problem is that we need these laws in the first place, which is the direct result of rights holders placing their piracy fears above their paying customers' concerns. That attitude will be much tougher to fix.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Aug 20th, 2014 @ 3:26am

    Year by year, consumers are gaining more rights over the digital content they buy. If this trend continues then it won’t be long before consumers have the same rights over digital content as they do over physical goods.

    Considering there should be no difference between physical and digital ownership since, you know, you paid it it seems to me we are a little late already...

    I simply don't have any issues here. Even if and when I buy a digital good I'll download the DRM-free copy and when I die my HDDs will be inherited. Problem solved.

    Piracy: letting the public do what is in their rights since the printing press.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 20th, 2014 @ 3:47am

    Two choices

    What needs to happen is that digital goods need to be treated one of two ways. Either:

    1. It's a purchase, in which case you can do what you want with it(within reason), including giving/selling/willing it to someone else.

    or...

    2. It's a license for access or use only, in which case if that access is lost for whatever reason, the 'seller' needs to refund the 'purchase'. If someone bought access to something, they deserve their money back if that access is revoked.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 4:55am

    Re:

    I would hate to be the heir that gets that hard drive and then has the MPAA and RIAA looking at them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Cecil Aardvark, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 5:06am

    Re: Two choices

    I like those two choices because they make the most sense to me as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 5:34am

    Set up shop

    I am now going to buy a house in Delaware and lease my home address to everyone on the planet. $100 per year gets you your residency, or $300 gets you a a lifetime plus 70 years certificate of residency in the state. Act now before all your digital goods become 0's in code.

    PATENT Pending,
    TRADEMARK Pending
    COPYRIGHT Pending
    ANY AND EVERY OTHER LEGAL JARGON/MONOPOLY CREATED NOW OR IN THE FUTURE ALSO IS PENDING SO HA,HA,HA.

    Capt ICE Enforcer
    About to be filthy rich.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    steve, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 7:31am

    possible problem

    It's basically a good idea, but executors or heirs should not be allowed to impersonate anyone online. Without provisions to stop this, an executor could send tweets or emails in the name of the deceased, for example. This could affect the reputation of the deceased and the intesrests of third parties.

    If this is ever imposed on an account on one of my sites, I'll give a copy of the data upon having my lawyer verify a court order, but I'll also *delete the account* and not allow any more activity on it. If forced to continue the account, I'd sue for payment for this service, and put a big red banner on it saying "this account is now under control of someone other than the person who created it" or similar (or sue for the right to do this). I won't be a party to anyone deceiving anyone else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 7:35am

    En loco parentis... sort of.

    As a matter of law, the executor of your state should be able to take your place in all things. Your executor should be able to act as your legal equal regardless of the context or what barriers corporations try to put our way.

    Although the entire field of estate law exists because there are often complications in this. If you don't know what you are doing, you can really mess things up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 7:54am

    Same as physical goods

    Well, IP maximalists keep saying it can be stolen...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    Historically, many companies of all sizes have chosen to incorporate in Delaware, due to the state's renowned business-friendly climate.

    It'll be interesting too see if this new law turns out to be a game-changer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    davidshulman (profile), Aug 20th, 2014 @ 9:47am

    The act doesn't change inheritance rights.

    The act does nothing to change already existing rules regarding how someone can transfer their property and to who. Those rights are still governed by existing law and the TOS for the various companies.

    The law provides fiduciaries (personal representatives, trustees, guardians, and agents under powers of attorney), ACCESS to digital assets in order to be able to administer the estate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 20th, 2014 @ 10:57am

    Re:

    The attraction to Delaware is a simple one: no corporate income tax.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 20th, 2014 @ 3:17pm

    Outside Delaware

    Even so, the ruling is very limited. Tech companies outside of Delaware will not be affected.

    The new law in Delaware only affects Delaware residents and will be probated there. It does not affect the tech companies registered in the state, according to one spokesperson. “If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345,” Kelly Bachman, a spokesperson for the Delaware governor’s office, said by email.


    That says it doesn't affect people who weren't residents of Delaware, not that it doesn't affect companies not headquartered in Delaware.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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