Who owns and can access your photos, music and social media account content when you die? There is an ever-increasing interest in how digital assets are dealt with on death.
While digital assets as a term may be an ‘all-encompassing title’, the issues involved are diverse and divide these into distinct areas: ownership and use, access and privacy.
Digital assets can take many forms: they may be online photos (Instagram, tumblr), music libraries (Apple Music), social network profiles (facebook, Twitter) or email accounts. Most of us don’t have physical records of such things; therefore, digital records can be of some value and may also have sentimental value.
In many cases, these assets are indeed our assets and you may have the right to either memorialise them or give you access to them.
What exactly can be done with our digital
assets on death?
In terms of digital assets, we don’t necessarily own what we think we own.
When online, we regularly agree to terms and conditions, which mean that we are restricted in our use of these digital assets or, rather, digital services. We are contracted to enjoy a service, whether or not we think of it in that way.
In some cases, the content acquired or used is a licence to use which is stipulated in the terms and conditions to terminate on death. It is not something that can be bequeathed to your loved one. Your digital version of ‘The Beatles Greatest Hits’ may be something you wish the next generation to also experience, but as a lot of digital music content is enjoyed on a licensed basis, it may not be yours to pass on.
The same can be said of photos and videos that we upload to some social networking sites. Some sites tend to state in their terms and conditions that they own any content that you upload.
Nevertheless, you do have ownership of photographs and songs that are stored electronically on your devices. Of course, while your estate may have ownership of those photographs, it might not be easy or possible to gain access to the device itself; and manufacturers of devices, on privacy grounds, may be extremely reluctant to allow third parties, even police, to access devices, as some high profile cases have shown.
Further reading on Digital Assets
The Gazette – Official Public Records website has the following guides for Protecting (and recovering) digital assets: online banking to bitcoins and What happens to digital assets on death
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