Who Gets Your Digital Files After You Die?

    In the past, a person with a large music or book library was able to divy up the physical objects among heirs in a will. But what happens in the new digital era? It’s a thorny issue between rights holders and the owners of the content.

    Legal experts say passing on iTunes or Kindle libraries could get very complicated because of the fact that a user doesn’t actually own the digital content that they’ve bought–they own a license to use the files. This differs from vinyl, CDs, or books, which are legally yours after purchase.

    Several states have already passed laws to allow executors and relatives access to email and social networking sites of their deceased loved ones, but these laws do not cover purchased digital files. According to Market Watch, these files exist in a “legal black hole” that’s difficult to navigate. Huge libraries could simply vanish because family members would be prohibited from inheriting them.

    But a new market is surfacing around these digital issues. David Goldman has created DapTrust, an online safe deposit box that customers can use as a legal trust by depositing music, movies, and e-books. Family members will be able to use these files after the owner dies, leaving the password–as well as the legal rights–to the digital content. Of course, descendents could just use the computers or digital devices of the deceased, but the housed files would not be legally theirs. All of this is wrapped up in dated intellectual property laws, which many analysts claim need to be updated as more and more property is moved to the digital realm.