/ Technology

iPass away – do my digital downloads die with me?

If you’ve built up a proud collection of books, records and DVDs, you’d expect to be able to pass them on to your next of kin. But what happens to all of the downloads you’ve paid for during your life?

The digital afterlife is an uncertain business, it seems. We challenged both Apple and Amazon on whether digital downloads could be passed on after death, and neither could give us a definitive answer.

As more and more purchases are made in a digital, rather than physical form, we think it’s time for the main digital retailers to clear up our rights to pass on property we’ve paid for.

Purchasing a product, or renting a licence?

As it stands, the rights of iTunes and Amazon customers look pretty shaky when it comes to passing on downloads. If you buy a music track from a digital store, you’re essentially buying a licence to play that track – a licence granted to you only, which isn’t transferable upon death.

Legally you’re essentially just renting tracks – you don’t actually own them, as Matthew Strain of law firm Strain-Keville pointed out to us in the latest issue of Which? Computing:

‘We do not “own” what we purchase on iTunes, we only have the right to use it. The right to the “product” is therefore limited and passing it on to someone else is not likely to be accepted by Apple.’

The issue extends to the rapidly-growing ebooks market as well – Amazon’s Kindle licence explicitly forbids you from passing on your downloaded ebooks:

‘Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sublicence or otherwise assign any rights to the digital content or any portion of it to a third party.’

Bequeathing your account passwords

So is there any way around this? The short answer is, yes and no.

It’s easy to pass on a physical device like an iPod or a Kindle, which will have music or books loaded onto it. However, if this device needed updating by accessing an account, the new owner could be left vulnerable to losing everything.

Ok, so why not simply hand over your account passwords, letting your next of kin access your iTunes or Amazon purchases? While this sounds simple, it can actually qualify as a breach of the T&Cs agreed upon when you set up an account. Matthew Strain explains:

‘Allowing others to have your account details is a breach of security as the contract sees it. This is not a direct breach of the terms of the contract, but Apple may take the view that it is and terminate your account privileges.’

The Cloud makes things foggier

Increasingly, the idea of storing files on a device you carry around with you will seem outdated – the move to Cloud storage, where files are stored remotely, makes it more essential than ever that we know where we stand when it comes to passing on paid-for downloads.

After all, if all of your files are stored remotely, and only accessible by you (according to a contract you signed when opening your account), handing your digital purchases over to loved ones upon your death becomes even more difficult.

Shouldn’t we be free to pass on our downloads to whomever we choose, just as they would with a physical product? As it stands, all of the rights seem stacked against the us.

robert smith says:
26 February 2012

I think Matt is getting to the point. When he is no longer here to enjoy his music he doesn’t really care what happens to it. Surely it is only those who are bloated with their own self importance who believe they can influence others from the grave.

With my books it’s nothing to do with my own ‘bloated self importance’, it’s just that I would like to see most of them find good homes to be enjoyed as I have enjoyed them, ok so there are some trashy novels that I seem to have inherited, and there are a couple on Thatcher that I had to read for my degree, did my degree in my 40’s, but the majority of those I have bought mean something to me, perhaps that is self importance, but why shouldn’t someone else profit from them either selling or enjoying, but not burning, dumped or pulped!
I know we are into downloads but to me it’s the same, my mother would have loved some of the stuff I’ve downloaded though I loathed it as a kid, similarly my children, heritage has to be passed on even though it’s not all good.
Here’s another connudrum, Audible books, from Amazon can’t be downloaded to CD’s/DVD’s, they just remain on my hard drive, who has the rights to those? I have about 60. Do I just pass on my account details or not? I will but that is besides the point.

I am not sure where the borderline exists between on line purchased items, as a paid for download from Amazon which presumably i am licensed to use, or passing on to my children bought and paid for CDs
Am I really only supposed to use the download at home or can I play it my car to my family.
If not the latter then the situation become ridiculous and is surely unenforceablr.

Sue B says:
6 March 2012

I don’t know if this is to do with DRM but I subscribe to Audible for MP3 format books. This is a good source of such material but my concern is that you need to dowload software onto a player to be able to play the books. When I signed up I was asured that if my membership lapsed I would be able to access my books but what happens if the company folds or changes hands and this policy changes? I have the books on my computer but would be unable to play them without the software download from the Audible website.

Anton Koekemoer says:
6 March 2012

Haha, Great Post! Thanks for a great reading experience.


Andy says:
10 March 2012

All this makes a good case for naming your children with the same name as yourself like the Americans have a propensity for doing with Joe Bloggs III for instance. If your credit card details and passport name as the son of the deceased match your father, then who’s to know you now have access to his account (presuming he left you the password). Though for women who get married and change their surname, there clearly already has to be a policy of allowing people with a different name to take over the rights of their pre-married account details…

If we were told that after we had finished reading a [traditional] book, we could either keep it on our shelves for our use only, or burn it if we had finished with it. Would we accept it?

No second hand book shops, no book donations to disadvantaged schools & countries, no lending a novel to a friend, no sharing of school textbooks and so it goes on.

This is yet another attempt by manufacturers to try and retain ownership of a product after we have purchased it.

Once I buy media. Whether a record, cassette, CD, DVD , VHS, Download or whatever. I have purchased that for my personal use, that use includes passing my copy onto whosoever I choose, and changing it to any format I like. The copy is mine, as long as I don’t copy and distribute it, or use it for profit without paying copyright dues, I do what I like with my copy, it is my property.

Having had to put up with myriads of laws designed to curtail my freedoms & rights and give quangos, co-operations and any Johnny come lately with a ministers ear, rights over me and my property which are breathtaking in their arrogance and complete disregard of the consumer. [see threads on OFT etc…], I have only one answer to this bit of cooperate bullying.
I am challenging this as it is not a real law, it is a protectionist measure designed to allow the companies to sell us the same product over and over, because they [not we] change format. In fact close scrutiny shows the gross curtailment of consumer rights makes it more illegal than legal. The whole purchasing a license to use the product is a complete legal confidence trick, as some commenter’s have pointed out.

I like your attitude there, however, I am a cynical old git and you can bet your life if there is some company, (Sony appear to be the worst) or Government that can see a few bucks you can bet your life they’ll be onto it.
The only thing left for this LibDem assisted Tory shower can do to me is tax the air I breathe as I’m in the gutter there is nothing more they can do to me, well perhaps Sony will sue me because I infringed copyright about 10 years ago, allegedly! Blood out of a stone cannot be got!

Steve K says:
6 April 2012

If you owned it, you could sell it, you can’t, your basically buying the rights for yourself. When yourself takes a dirt bath so does everything you paid for. Pretty jacked.

Well there are services offering to pass on the passwords to accounts to executors etc for a fee – used to be called icroak (rather wonderfully) now renamed to something more austere – google digital legacy services.

Oh and I will be right worried if I die and have left my Apple or Amazon password to my next of kin. Who is going to come and arrest me. Actually most of the digital downloads you purchase are purchases not rentals so as far as I am concerned they are my property and therefore can be in my estate and therefore companies have to give the inheritors access to those files. Easiest way is to do an inventory of username/passwords etc and leave them access to save them all the wrangling. Once they have the downloads they can tell the companies if they want, or do what they please because I will be playing my harp on yonder icloud not giving one jot to this materialistic world.

The word “Buy” signifies ownership to me. Apple should change their “Buy” button to “life time rental” if one can’t pass on their collection to their loved ones. Let’s all go back to vinyl and cds shall we.