Bruce Willis Isn't Suing Apple Over Who Owns His iTunes Library, But Maybe Someone Should

Over the holiday weekend, an odd story spread across the Internet newsosphere. It seemed plausible enough: actor Bruce Willis, allegedly concerned that his children wouldn’t be able to inherit his iTunes library in the event of his untimely demise, was suing Apple to fix this grave injustice. Only it turned out not to be true. The part about Bruce Willis, that is. The part about how access to the files we “purchase” on iTunes dies when we do? That part is totally true.

Here’s the thing with digital content: you feel like you’re buying it, but you don’t “own” it. At best, you’ve got a lifetime lease. (If you lose your password or get arbitrarily locked out of your account, the lease is even shorter.) With books and music in the physical realm, you’re free to sell or give away your copy of Sgt. Pepper or Twilight, and when you die, they go to your heirs. If you own digital copies of the same works, current terms of use indicate that when you die, the right to use those files dies with you.

This makes matters simpler for companies like Amazon and Apple, which don’t have to deal with squabbling relatives arguing over who gets to take home which of Mom’s albums after she dies. Their answer is simple: the right to use digital content is currently nontransferable. A few states have laws regarding access to online accounts after death, but none have legislated the afterlife of our iTunes accounts. Are you ready to write off every piece of media you buy in the digital era?

Bruce Willis Isn’t Suing Apple Over iTunes Music Ownership Rights [TechCrunch]
Who inherits your iTunes library? [MarketWatch]