As more of our lives move into the digital realm, the bequeathing of digital assets has the potential to become a huge issue. iTunes has already taken away the one album I purchased from them years ago. And from a legal standpoint, it is not yet clear what will happen to a digital account when someone dies. If we have an Amazon family account, could my husband or child simply take it over? Could digital media accounts be set up in such a way so that users can be ‘merged’ if someone passes away?
Authors Evan Carroll and John Romano have begun to address these issues in Your Digital Afterlife, which has been getting some buzz online. Although the book is a few years old (it was published in 2011) it does have some good suggestions in it. For example, the authors are proponents of digital culling and suggest that you weed through your stash periodically so that your heirs are not faced with virtual folders full of junk. I do this often myself. My Calibre library is very well-organized, with the books tagged appropriately and labelled or described reasonably carefully. Part of this is for my own convenience, so that I can find the things I’m looking for. Part of it is also so that my kids, if they turn out to be readers, can someday browse my books as well and find the things they want to read. But I am aware too that someday that backup drive will be theirs, to keep or dispose of as they wish. I don’t want them wasting months, as we did with my grandfather, sifting through all my stuff and trying to determine whether it’s useful.
Of course, the bugbear in this whole thing is DRM. The unspoken assumption in all of this organizing, culling and weeding is that you’ll be doing so with actual, useful files. And that means that if you do purchase DRM-encumbered content, you’ll have to be prepared to ‘liberate’ it from these protections before you back it up for your future heirs. If Amazon won’t let me bequeath my Kindle account to someone, none of my digital content is going to be of any use unless I am comfortable taking matters into my own hands. This is going to be the next frontier in ‘digital asset management’ I think. Will Amazon or Kobo or iBooks let me bequeath my books? Or is protecting my bought and paid for stuff going to, unacceptably, remain a legal grey area?
Related: The Digital Beyond Web site and a YouTube. Also see DRM nightmare: After recent upgrade, Kobo customers report losing Sony books from their libraries, by Chris Meadows. Even when you’re alive, future access to DRMed books can be problematic. Should laws even discourage use of encryption-based DRM in “sold” books and require notices that they are not truly ownable, long term? David Rothman thinks so.