Who Owns Your Digital Property?

Many of you probably have substantial music libraries purchased from Apple's iTunes Store, and you believe that it's yours. You might be surprised (as I was) to learn otherwise. It turns out that, much like draft beer, you never actually buy digital music from Apple, you merely rent it. And actor Bruce Willis is considering suing Apple to change all that.

Any of you who've been reading my stuff for a while know that I absolutely hate Apple's DRM policies and always have (despite the fact that I'm long AAPL). It is the reason I will never own an Apple product. But they're not the only company guilty of digital tyranny. When I think about the slave army that produces terabytes worth of content for free so Facebook and others like them can monetize it, it makes me cringe.

But I think this is going to become a very important question over the next 20 years, and Bruce Willis may be firing the opening salvo in a protracted battle over who owns your digital property/content. It all stems from Willis discovering that he cannot bequeath his music collection (reportedly worth thousands of dollars) to his heirs because that's a violation of the iTunes TOS.

Hundreds of millions of people download music from iTunes every day without giving a thought to what they're agreeing to by doing so. But it is a strict licensing agreement that forbids the transfer of any songs to anyone but the purchaser. And when the purchaser dies, the purchaser's collection dies with him.

I'm not just picking on Apple here. I buy all my music from Amazon and for all I know they have the same restrictions. What peeves me a bit (and I suppose it's a touch of sour grapes as much as anything else) is that Apple saw the writing on the wall with the fall of Napster, and took advantage of everyone's (read: lawmakers) ignorance to institute these draconian terms virtually unchecked. Once again, past is prologue.

All I know is that we are all collecting a ton of digital property as we traipse through this brave new world. If I thought I was going to lose my Kindle collection upon my death, I'd be pretty bummed about that. I'm approaching 1,000 volumes on Kindle. That's a shit-ton of information I'd like to pass down to my boys, and it would be a shame to lose it.

Plus there's all the content we provide our various communities, including WSO. Ownership of that becomes a sticky issue if it isn't spelled out ahead of time.

What do you guys think? Is this a big deal or a tempest in a teapot? Were you aware that you were essentially leasing your digital music? Especially when it comes to Apple, because they have God capabilities to shut you down and disable your entire library (to my way of thinking, that is perhaps the best reason to go the open source route rather than Apple). Who owns your stuff?

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