Taking your music collection to the great iCloud in the sky

Hollywood star sparks legal debate with Apple

Daniel Verdú

Record collecting is not what it once was. Now, rather than scouring shelves stacked with secondhand vinyl, music obsessives can buy rarities, new releases and compilations in digital stores at the click of a button. And instead of amassing a treasure trove that can be passed on after their death, the digital libraries they acquire on Apple and Amazon will go with them to the grave.

 It's all there in the legal conditions you accept when you buy in a digital store, but it is now generating debate after the UK's The Sunday Times published the news that the actor Bruce Willis was thinking about suing Apple over the matter. The Die Hard star has reportedly spent a fortune buying music on iTunes and wants his three daughters to be able to inherit his collection after his death.

You are now no longer the owner of a product, but a mere user of a service. It's a very American concept, but one that's difficult to understand in Spain, given that Apple is not open to giving explanations. Not about this, nor about most other things unrelated to its product launches. "We don't have a specialist person who can comment on such things," says Paco Lara, head of communication for Apple in Spain, when asked why the firm has such a policy.

Neither does Amazon say a word about why you cannot assign the rights to digital content to third parties. The company does allow you to lend Kindle e-book titles to another person, but these disappear from your device for the period of time the borrower has them.

"It's disastrous that other people cannot enjoy the library you have created over years," says Fernando García, a journalist who specializes in e-books and author of the book Sin tinta (or, No ink). "There is no other way than to leave your password to your heirs. But it's an abomination that I think will improve in some time."

"The digital distribution method is different," says Paloma Llaneza, an intellectual property lawyer. "They are companies that have a different legal jurisdiction to ours and the conditions we sign are subject to foreign law. [...] They are companies that impose conditions for providing their service that you decide whether you accept or not. This is a business based on the concept of a closed model, which is to say that we can only use them on our devices. Your library is on their servers. That makes you dependent on the device and on the company and they avoid copyright problems. Some rights of use have hereditary content and can be inherited. But intellectual property law does not allow it to be done with other things such as software licenses."

In the end, it all goes back to the recurring debate over what happens to our accounts when we die. Your email, social network, online store and other accounts, and all the information within them, are strictly for private use and not transferable. Non-material goods, we now know, cannot be possessed and can only be enjoyed until your last breath. And not a day more.

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