Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Digital Life After Death

Who owns your Facebook account after your death? Suppose a teenager or young adult passes away.  Unless his or her parents had already "friended" the deceased, the parents will not have even have access to the deceased photos and other information posted there. Without account log-in information, parents or family will not be able to access the accounts to shut them down or remove offensive comments posted there by "trolls." Suppose the young adult was an artist with photos posted to Instagram or other sites. How can the family get control of their artistic works? What happens to your extensive digital music library? E-mail, social media, billing accounts, etc. - we are a connected society, but have few laws dealing with the nature of digital rights.  Is it "property" that passes by the state laws of intestacy?  To what extent can digital information be bequeathed in a will? Legislatures are starting to pay attention and to attempt to deal with these issues. What do you students think the law should be?

Below is an interesting video. The company featured here, Entrustet, purports to allow you to designate who should get your digital property in the event of your death. Or, to authorize them to delete material before anyone else can see it! However, by taking the position that your digital material is "property" doesn't that mean that only a valid will may designate heirs? The digital designations contemplated here would not meet the will requirements under any state law. It's also interesting how the company clumsily refers to the "dead person" rather than the more genteel "deceased."

Here is a news report on the original issue:

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