On Monday, the U.K.’s Sunday Times published the unverified story of actor Bruce Willis suing Apple over the right to bequeath his iTunes music collection to his daughters – an ability that Apple currently withholds in its terms of service. The paywalled article, which claimed that Willis had amassed a vast music collection consisting of Led Zeppelin and Adele, was picked up quickly by several other publications – and just as immediately, it was refuted by Willis’ wife, Emma Heming-Willis, on Twitter.
Although phony, the story bought up a thought-provoking question: who owns our digital data? When agreeing to download songs on the iTunes Store, users are paying for the license to listen to the song on an Apple device; they are not purchasing the song itself. Of course, Willis could leave his music-filled laptops, iPods and iPads to his daughters, but they’d only be able to listen to the music on 10 Apple devices and burn playlists seven times.
Apple is not the only digital distributor that restricts users from limitless sharing or transferring of legal downloads. Amazon and Google Play have similar jargon in their terms and conditions. Clinging to the industry of distribution, record labels devised these terms in the digital era to ensure that future generations would pay for new formats.
Speaking of which, the Guardian‘s tech blog highlights an interesting sidenote: “Willis grew up in the age of vinyl and went through the ages of 8-track, cassette tape, minidisc, and CD before arriving at the present age of download. Wouldn’t a lot of his stuff be on CD?”
In a more legitimate legal battle last month, Apple won a $1 billion judgment against Samsung over patent disputes.