Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

Disclaimer

In this site, you will not find an exhaustive legal review of your data. Why ?

Laws can change depending on your location, the time of application, and from the changing policies of online service providers. The US are currently changing rights : it means that things can be different, even between two neighbouring states. The strategy proposed here is not to have legal issues for your executor to get back to your data. These processes can be time consuming and not worth the hassle in conditions where there are lots to do elsewhere. That’s why we do recommend you to prepare for an easy transmission of your belongings.

TL;DR#: let’s do the things quick and simply. A quick act can avoid long procedures afterwards.

What Makes up Your Digital Estate?

Digital death laws

As per today, laws are not uniform around the globe, even in a single country like the US. Connecticut, Idaho, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Indiana are the only states so far to have laws concerning post mortem digital asset management. And even within this group, assets are not classified evenly : for example, 2005 Connecticut only considered an email address in its text.

However, the common point is that the aim of passing laws is to grant access to the digital executor of the dead person.

Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

Rights and licenses for digital assets

You will have to be extremely cautious when discussing about your rights on the digital goods that you are using. Sometimes you own your assets, but in some other cases, you do not really own them. For example, you may not own an ebook the same way you own a hardcover, paper-based, physical book — or music they same way you have CDs at home. If we take the example of the Mac App Store, we might see in the Terms of purchase (which of course you had carefully and thoughtfully read) that you buy a license to use, not a good that you own — and the public realized this after an outburst of actor Bruce Willis.

Some other services, like trusts, can be used to transfer the license to a .. trust. That’s what, for example, a Digital Asset Protection Trust# “can manage these assets and allow those who you pre select to access them without violations of the license terms and without potential liability to others”.

We’re of course not advising you to try to break the law, but you can make it easier for your beneficiaries to access the files that you once “had”. With a proper planning, you can make sure they will have all the cards in hands to receive what you wanted them to have. But having access is different from having the rights to listen to your former favorite songs!.

Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

A topo of digital assets versus tangible assets

A regular definition of a digital asset can be “Anything that is stored digitally, in the cloud or on local media, that might have financial, personal or emotional value”.

Your digital and online assets can be classified in two categories. On the one hand, accounts, which are keys that lead to the digital vaults like iTunes, twitter, facebook, … . On the other hand, you do have digital goods like emails, photos, tweets, music, ebooks, movies, and so on. Apart from these, you can also have digital currency, in the form of money sitting on paypal, bitcoins, online games accounts.

 People start recognizing the value of their digital assets. Take Facebook. It appears that around 10% of Britons leave their facebook password in their will# — and amongst the reasons are the fact that our photo albums do not sit at home.. but in the cloud.

 Lastly, it’s not because it’s a in game that a digital asset will have no value. They are auction websites specialized in trading items or local currencies for online games. A sword in a game (was Age of Wulin) can be sold 16k$ — and World of Warcraft fans can sell their characters from 500 to 800$ for characters on which some time was spent, to 5000$ for some well equipped warriors.

 You can consider as well your eBook library, songs and electronic movie catalog (all of them being legal and paid for, I’m sure), as well as, let’s say, your apps, for which you’ll be spending around 10$ a month# in average. Whatever the support digital assets rely on, they still represent prized possessions, with a clear financial value, but also a nice sentimental and personal value.

 A washington estate attorney took the example of one client having a complete activity and business online. A photograph today can have pictures that are published or licensed, thousands of pictures stored digitally, instructional videos and tutorials, etc.

Now imagine her heirs going into her house after her departure: there may be no trace of her business, save for the camera and set-ups. But the products would not be there, maybe no negatives, or prints, even less film rolls. Contracts, licenses, all accounts could be stored as well in the cloud. Without a proper planning, her whole life work could be done: no more publishing or licensing.