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Who inherits your iTunes library?

Your digital books and music may go to the grave with you.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 28, 2012 3:37PM

This post comes from Quentin Fottrell at partner site MarketWatch.


MarketWatch on MSN MoneyMany 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.


Image: Coffin at a cemetery (© Mike Kemp/the Agency Collection/Getty Images)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, a 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, the "owner" 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 the files themselves.


Apple and 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. (Post continues below video.)

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?


Most digital content exists in a legal black hole. "The law is light years away from catching up with the types of assets we have in the 21st century," says Wheatley-Liss. In recent years, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Oklahoma and Idaho have passed laws allowing executors and relatives access to email and social networking accounts of those who have died, but the regulations don't cover digital files purchased.


Apple and Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

There are still few legal and practical ways to inherit e-books and digital music, experts say. And at least one lawyer has a plan to capitalize on what may become a burgeoning market. David Goldman, a lawyer in Jacksonville, Fla., says he is launching the software DAP Trust to help estate planners create a legal trust for their clients' online accounts that hold music, e-books and movies.


"With traditional estate planning and wills, there's no way to give the right to someone to access this kind of information after you're gone," he says.


More from MarketWatch/SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Aug 28, 2012 7:27PM
I buy all my music in mp3 format. It's now mine and I'll do whatever the hell I want with it. I would not put that piece of crap ITunes on either of my desktops.
Aug 29, 2012 10:56AM
This is BS. My itunes (AAC) files, which are stored both on my PC and a backup hard drive, can be played on almost all devices and with various software other than itunes. They can also be converted to crappy mp3 files if needed.  
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