Funeral Music

February 10, 2012

A recent press release from Rothera Dowson solicitors, detailing probate solicitor {Jayne Smith’s sensible advice about the need to protect digital assets:}, has driven me down a morbid path. And finding the information I wanted was so tricky that I found myself proceeding along the information superhighway at a frustratingly funereal pace.

Despite my current flirtation with Lana Del Rey, I long since decided on my own funeral music. I want a combination. First a tearjerker, {Maria Callas singing Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samsom and Delilah:} (which {i}sounds{/i} indescribably sad and sincere, even though it is just cynical manipulation in context) and/or the {Judy Collins version of the The Song of Wandering Aegnus:} (only the original version will do though). Then, after the Dalai Lama’s eulogy, a {medley of jigs:} as the assembled multitude leaves St Paul’s to start the party, which has my Spotify dance playlist for the disco (I am allowed self-delusion – I’ll be dead). Forget estate planning – that’s as far as I have got in planning for death, so my first reaction to the press release was to worry about how my heirs would access the music for the funeral. Then, going all editorial and not a little pompous, I pulled myself together to suggest that the advice would be better copy for SCL if it included some additional legal advice on what digital assets are and how to deal with the things that we think we own but are actually subject to personal licences.

In response to a subsequent, well justified, question about the availability of articles on digital assets and death, I had to admit that the SCL site and Computers & Law magazine have nothing to offer. I was briefly embarrassed.

But I should not be the only person who is embarrassed. What about Apple and its lawyers, which happily ignore the word ‘death’ in iTunes terms and conditions except insofar as to make it clear that their numerous denials of liability do not extend to a denial of liability for it? (How can you die from an iTune? Is it something to do with Radiohead and suicide?) For when I die and when I’m dead, there may (as Laura Nyro claims) be one child born and a world to carry on, but that child won’t be able to listen to my iTunes legally even if I leave them my iPlayer. It is pretty much the same with Kindle – it is just for personal use only. I am sure Amazon have a corporate heart, but for them to contemplate my son fatherless and yet not let him have the consolation of reading {the latest book from SCL Chair Clive Davies:} seems cruel beyond measure. My downloads, like many other things, are held on a personal licence which terminates when I do – well before I take up my position in the coffin (assuming I’m dead first of course and not just playing the usual Dracula meets Bride of Frankenstein game).

I shall have to add an extra clause in my will that passes on my iPlayer and Kindle with a small additional legacy so that my heirs can download all the material again and listen to it or read it legally. What other solution could there possibly be? Unless, just possibly, common-sense asserts itself and we have a change in licence terms that actually recognises the legality of playing my music or reading downloaded books after I am gone. No? I thought not.

But the personal licences from the big players are the easy part. Some people have quite astounding amounts of money invested in multi-player games, others have online poker stakes that would pay my year’s (enormous) fuel bill, there may be online revenue from uploaded blogs or music sites (your own music not illegal file-shares) and so on, in increasing variety.

But perhaps the world of IT experts should be embarrassed too. There seems to be precious little guidance out there. Can nobody take a spell out from the intricacies of data protection and online copyright to create a useful analysis of what assets should be inheritable or create a code of practice that might be adopted by the sellers of these personal licences? Who knows, they might adapt their terms and conditions to make a generous allowance for what happens to your digital assets on death. Certainly it would help to clarify what digital assets are. Some of the administrators of solutions to the management of digital assets on death seem to have an interest in muddying the waters – lumping iTunes, photographs stored on your PC and online investment accounts all in the same sentence as if the solution is one-size-fits-all.

There are in fact a number of providers of ‘solutions’, including the wonderfully named iCroak and The solution seems, from my limited research, to consist of putting your passwords and instructions in a cyberstore – Jayne Smith’s advice about a sealed envelope seems cheaper and pretty much as effective. But I have to say that {} seems to have a more sophisticated approach and they group together the relevant policies of all major online players too in a way that eventually speeded up my research.

But there seems to be a real lack of an analysis of the line between ownership and licence in the way that I think is needed. If you know of anything out there that provides this, please let me know – or, better yet, write something!