August 26, 2014
The fate of your online life after death is a sensitive topic, and one both the law and technology companies have struggled with how to handle. Last week, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell took one step toward a possible solution, signing into law first-of-its-kind legislation that will grant Delawarean families the right to the digital assets of loved ones who are incapacitated or deceased, the way they would be given access to physical documents. But our Twitter, Facebook, or Gmail accounts are not our only online assets.
If you’ve read your Kindle or iTunes EULA, you’d know just how little control over your e-books or music you have. Every time you hit “buy” at the Kindle store, you are not purchasing an e-book; you are licensing it for your personal use only. Even if you reread your e-copy of The Hobbit twice a year for 10 years, you are no closer to owning it, and without Amazon’s permission, no closer to being able to hand it down to your children. Professor Gerry Beyer at Texas Tech University says that the Delaware statute does not override this feature of Amazon’s, or most, EULAs, which are protected by other forms of federal law. “The bill is not designed to change an asset you could not transfer into one you can,” he told me.