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Why You Won’t Inherit Digital Media

iTunesLogoBack in 2012 the media was abuzz with tales of what would happen to an  iTunes accounts when the account holder passed away. The short answer is, you can’t. While you might get around the issue by burning your media to CD, providing your credentials to a loved one or even creating your account in the name of a trust, Apple does not support a way to transfer access to your media. During all of that buzz, I had this to say to WSJ’s MarketWatch:

“I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.”

Well, I no longer find it hard to imagine. In fact, I don’t think inheriting digital media is something we’ll worry about long-term.

Purchasing digital media is likely to become a thing of the past.

With the release of Kindle Unlimited, adding to the growing list of subscription-based media services like Amazon Prime, Spotify and Netflix, inheritance for digital media becomes less important. Increasingly consumers are attracted to subscription services to provide access to almost every song, video or book, rather than purchase them individually.

When iTunes first emerged, the idea of a subscription service would have seemed foreign. After decades of purchasing media, paying a monthly fee wouldn’t have resonated with consumers. Moreover, Internet bandwidth of the day made it necessary to download media for offline playback, especially on non-connected devices like iPods, which did not have Wi-Fi or cellular capabilities at the time.

Today the subscription services are poised to take over and with a time-based subscription, there’s nothing to inherit.

    5 Responses to Why You Won’t Inherit Digital Media

    1. Naomi Bloom August 2, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      I disagree. One thing of value to inherit here is the inventory information itself. What songs did your departed friend/loved one or perhaps a famous musician play? Just as there are important memories to be enjoyed when going through a loved one’s library, whether we’re inheriting the actual books or not, there are a lot of memories tied up in the music of their lives. So, even if — and here I do agree — that there’s no inheritable asset in the music itself in a subscription media economy (so this covers not only music but movies and books), I believe there needs to be an inheritable asset in the playlists, ratings against that playlist and any related commentary from the owner of that playlist.

    2. Evan Carroll August 2, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Naomi, thanks for the comment! I don’t think we disagree at all. My point was around the media itself, not necessarily the metadata, which would encompass playlists, ratings, commentary and the like. I do believe these data should be inheritable in some way.

      Interestingly, many of these services also post metadata to Facebook. For instance, my Facebook activity would also show the music I’ve listened to via Spotify or Last.fm. There’s definitely value in that information.

    3. JS October 27, 2014 at 10:23 am #

      I also disagree. My husband and I are avid collectors of obscure jazz and blues recordings that may never be placed on any streaming service. Many of these we have digitized for personal use. Unless rights issues can be resolved. some may never even be heard ever again. As a librarian and archivist, I am acutely aware of the many issues that will affect the ability of people to access older digital files in the future. Sure, if all you listen to is Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, this advice applies. Otherwise, please take what I wrote into consideration.

    4. Evan Carroll October 27, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      JS,
      Thanks for your comment! I’d like to clarify that I was referring to tracks which were purchased digitally and have digital rights management that would prevent them from being played. If you have an obscure jazz recording that you’ve purchased on physical media, there’s no reason why the digital file cannot be passed down to another generation along with the tangible media. And once those recordings enter the public domain, the rights issues mostly go away.

    5. Evan Carroll October 27, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      P.S. I’m a proud UNC SILS graduate, so archives and preservation are very important to me. 🙂

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