Can rights to digital media be passed along to one's heirs?

With all of the money I have been spending on e-books and a bit on music and videos, over the years, I'm wondering if anyone has heard anything as to whether the rights to read, listen and view can be passed along to one's heirs?

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To read, listen, or view is a right that you have by purchasing the media in question. In today's world you do not actually own said media, you just have the right to read, listen to, or view it. This is especially true with digital media of any kind. You might die and will it to relatives but they have no rights to the actual digital content. The copyright holders have that right, and said rights have to be renewed at certain times. This will usually happen as long as the media is making a profit. Once it is no longer profitable the media might go into public domain.

I'm not an attorney but I have often been my own lawyer. I brought my wife here from Kenya and she is a US citizen today. I did all her paperwork. Most recently I did our divorce after 12 years of marriage. I also represented her once and myself on occasion over the years.

Glen Rosenberg might be able to answer that question. He's usually in the chat room. I'd like to know what he says.

In the USA one cannot convey any property rights in terms of use that are greater than the state affords. The rights to read, listen and view are intrinsic assuming one has fee simple ownership or absolute ownership.

On the other hand if the material is of a nature that is banned like child pornography then the testator cannot give the beneficiary a right that the state has denied. Similarly if a copyright infringement is applicable one cannot avoid that infringement in testamentary device.

Glen, thank you for clearing that up! Now is there a way to translate that into red neck simpleton? I really have no idea what you said.

That is correct, Glen. When you buy digital media you have fee simple ownership. This does not mean you cannot pass your CD's, DVD's, etc. on to relatives at a later time even though the copyright holders would rather that these persons purchased new media. There is no way to force anyone to do so, and no way to enforce such a desire. You may do as you like. This is why you find such items used in resale shops without any problems. Still, the copyright holders remain the real owners. They tend to push "infringement" to the limit as much as they can to let you know who the real owners are. This is why copying such media is a big issue with the rights holders. They do not want to lose money. It would be unlikely however that digital rights holders would be around to contest a will or testament case in the same way that they are not preventing their media from being resold in stores.

Hi - Thanks for the replies from Michael Penn and Glen Rosenberg.  I am with CompelledUnbeliever in that I am still not clear on the basic answer to the basic question.  To clarify something about my question - I am not so much concerned about my CD collection (one form of "digital media" I guess) as my rights to download ebooks and certain mp3 files and such from Amazon and one or two other spots.  In the case of CDs and and DVDs, I would simply include them in a will.  

In the case of rights I have purchased to download and read ebooks and music, it's not clear to me what would happen.  If I wanted someone else to have these rights, would I just provide them with my login and password?  Would that last forever?  Assuming not, then does this mean I should stop purchasing the non-hard-copies since they have this one major element where they are not as valuable (i.e.: the right to listen and view and read does not survive me?).


Downloading is always a tricky subject. If you purchase rights to do so and then you die, any survivors would have to purchase their own rights and use their separate login and password. Nothing lasts forever and your right to download something is normally limited to the item being sold at the time. Digital movies, for example, can be downloaded but you do not pay once and download an entire collection. Each item is paid for one at a time. A similar thing happens with digital music, and everything is digital these days.E-books are the same.

I cannot advise you but anything you belong to that says you pay once and then download all that you want should be questioned. Take that issue up with an attorney. This is all very different than being a member of streaming media sites or satellite television, cable, etc. where you pay a monthly fee.

Hi - for the songs I've purchased from Amazon, it seems I have the right to store them on my local drive.  So, then if someone is willed my hard drive and has my songs on the drive, would they be legally entitled to listen to those songs?

For the books I've been purchasing from Amazon and Kobo, I also have them on my hard drive and phone, so I think it gets to the same questions.

For the videos, there are a few I've purchased and not rented, and so for those few, the same questions arise, though I don't have them stored.

For the sheet music I've bought digitally I think it was more restricted except that it was oriented toward a print-out process and so there again, it would be good too confirm if I can pass along the print-out.

What I am getting at is that this is a multi (multi) billion-dollar question over the coming decades and perhaps longer, if not a trillion dollar question, and I have yet to hear of lawyers, economists, industry analysts and others addressing it, so I'm trying to help get the ball rolling on that, a bit.  If the answers are in some ways restrictive ("no, you can't download from your recently-deceased relative's account the $10k of music they had purchased over their lifetime"), then at least let's have that clear.  If it's legal or illegal even to pass along a legally-purchased file for listening or reading by someone else, then let's also have that made 100% clear.  I think if there were good transparent information out there on these matters, then it might affect folks' present day purchases.  For generations it was not legally controversial (as far as I know) to pass along one's book (and later - record) collection.  Will it be now?  If so, then will this be a strong economic incentive for some folks to avoid purchasing digital copies and go back to purchasing hard copies, about which there is (or seems to be) less controversy?

I wasn't really sure where to place this topic.  I put it in politics because it involves legal questions, but it perhaps should have gone somewhere to do with economics or other practices.  I know, it doesn't have to do with atheism.

"...For the books I've been purchasing from Amazon and Kobo, I also have them on my hard drive and phone, so I think it gets to the same questions...."

I take it back.  For the books I've purchased, most of them are just on Amazon's servers and I download when I'm going to read them.  So, that gets into the tough question - would my heirs be able to do so?  Assuming the answer is "probably not", then it gets into the multi-billion-dollar (or more) question of whether the entire economy system of trading certain media has transformed, where items are purchased for one user only and then later would-be consumers of the media need to buy it again new.  Further, I guess the used markets would in theory be dramatically reduced since there are many fewer hardcopies around.

I think you have pretty well answered your own question. Digital media in an Internet realm is mostly for a single user only. If you pass your hard drive and things on it to others later - who will know? Why would it matter unless it was openly known?

Hi Michael:

My main concern here is not my meager portfolio of a few thousands of dollars of expenditures. It it is the theoretical discussion of a business, legal and economic question possibly affecting (as I've said) future financial matters totally in the billions (if not more).

As to my hard drive, it addresses some aspects of the music question, but not the movie question or the sheet music question, and perhaps not the books question. Even for music though it does not address the question of legal rights (never mind whether something can be got away with, the question is: Is it legal?

Michael Penn wrote:
I think you have pretty well answered your own question. Digital media in an Internet realm is mostly for a single user only. If you pass your hard drive and things on it to others later - who will know? Why would it matter unless it was openly known?

Some of us here have tried to answer your questions for you and I have seen some excellent answers. My quote that you are showing is not exactly for the question you want answered. When you start using copyrighted material of any sort to make money in any way you need the express permission of the copyright holders. That's about the best I can tell you.




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