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.

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Filed Under: delaware, digital goods, heirs, inheritance, licenses, property

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 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.

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