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What Happens To Our eBooks When We Die?

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Just ran across an interesting story about Facebook and what happens to your account when you die:

As of Thursday, there will be three basic options: 1) You can do nothing, in which case the current rules apply and your account can be memorialized by anyone after your death, providing that the company gets adequate proof of your death. 2) You can ask Facebook to delete your account after you die. 3) You can designate someone — called your legacy contact — to manage your account. Once Facebook is notified of your death, your timeline will also change to let people know you’ve died. Facebook does this by adding the word “Remembering” ahead of your name — i.e. “Remembering John Doe.”

It brings up something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Mark and I own almost 10,000 songs in electronic formats, and about 818 eBooks. In the past, if one or both of us had died, passing on these assets would have been easy – just grab a box (or a hundred) and throw the books and cd’s in. But now it’s more complicated.

It’s only in the last few months that we gained the ability to link our accounts in iTunes and Amazon as a family, to share our common assets.

And technically, I don’t even really “own” my Kindle eBooks:

Amazon’s terms of service clearly state that, unlike those bulky slabs of arboreal matter that imparted knowledge to generations past, Kindle books can never be owned in the traditional sense. Instead, your $12.99 merely earns you the right to view the work on your Kindle. This arrangement gives Amazon the authority to snatch back that content if the company thinks you’ve been naughty—say, by copying and distributing ebooks or by engaging in fraud with your account.

This has actually happened – with one version of a popular high school text being pulled from kindles of students who had made notes in their copies for class.

My guess is that the vast number of users don’t realize they don’t really own these assets and have given little thought to what will happen to them when they die. But Facebook’s announcement shows that this is starting to become more of an issue.

So my questions today: What does the future hold for our rights to own and pass on digital content? What kind of trade offs have we made? What about streaming – in the future, will we really own any media? And what *should* happen when we die to all of our digital stuff?


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