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Who Inherits Your iTunes Library? Comments

Why your digital books and music may go to the grave.

  • By Quentin Fottrell, Marketwatch
  • August 20, 2014

inherit digital files

Many of us will accumulate vast libraries of digital books and music over the course of our lifetimes. But when we die, our collections of words and music may expire with us. Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated.

And one’s heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.” “Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.”

Part of the problem is that with digital content, one doesn’t have the same rights as with print books and CDs. Customers own a license to use the digital files — but they don’t actually own them.

Apple  and Amazon.com grant “nontransferable” rights to use content, so if you buy the complete works of the Beatles on iTunes, you cannot give the “White Album” to your son and “Abbey Road” to your daughter. According to Amazon’s terms of use, “You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content.” 

Apple limits the use of digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder. “That account is an asset and something of value,” says Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, an estate-planning attorney at Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard in Parsippany, N.J.

But can it be passed on to one’s heirs?

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