Music distribution has evolved so drastically over the last few decades that we don’t have to glance too far back to see the changes. It wasn’t that long ago cassette tapes seemed such cool ways of transporting our music, certainly less clunky than their vinyl cousins. Then the CD turned that on its head, very swiftly followed by digitalmusic.
Amidst all the hype of which sound system delivers the purest experience, few people have given too much thought to the fact that by downloading music, they are in effect relinquishing their absolute ownership of their music collections.
As emotive as films and photos, our music collections represent a vast part of our very identity and in many cases something we would like to pass on to our loved ones when we die. In fact until quite recently there was the automatic assumption that we could do just that. The entire process had just become simpler, why would it not follow that passing it on would be just as hassle free?
So what does happen to all our music when we pass away?
As it turns out our downloaded music does not belong to us. What we are purchasing when we buy a music track is the licence to play that track. Which means since we don’t own it it isn’t transferable upon death.
It’s a licence granted to the purchaser and only the purchaser and when we pass away that license passes away with us. In fact the license that we buy to play a track or album comes with an extremely limited set of rights.
According to This is money more than £30billion of films, music and books bought through iTunes and Amazon could vanish when their owners die.
In 2012 it was alleged that ‘Die Hard’ actor Bruce Willis was preparing to sue Apple in a battle over who would own his vast collection of digital music when he died. It was alleged that Willis had asked his advisors to set up family trusts to “hold” his downloads, which according to friends include thousands of classic rock tunes and British acts from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin as well as modern performers including Adele. However, it was later found out that this was a baseless rumour without a known source.
The fact is that this is an issue we all need to look into more carefully, particularly if we value our musiccollections. One solution could be to include all relevant account information when you set up an inventory of your online assets to be passed on to nominated verifiers and beneficiaries. There are those who simply go back a step and burn all their music back onto CDs, going forward however some sort of deal needs to be struck between suppliers and consumers to ensure an individual’s music legacy is protected and passed on.