Whose music is it anyway?

Posted on 10/09/2012 by Emma Dadswell


According to Music Week, reports that Bruce Willis is set to battle Apple over ownership of his digital music library are unfounded - but the story has rekindled the long-standing debate over ownership of digital content and its potentially problematic nature.

Apple’s ‘borrowing under license’ restriction means that music bought through iTunes shouldn’t be shared, with Apple reserving the right to freeze the iTunes accounts of those it believes to be passing on music to others. Willis, however, was said to want to leave 'thousands of dollars’ worth' of downloaded music to his daughters in his will. Had he wanted to pass on a large collection of vinyl records, there would be no question of ownership, but in today’s digital age the definitions of possession and property are becoming ever more blurred.

Despite the authenticity of this story, there is still little doubt that serious questions need to be asked about the longevity of digitally bought items. Are digital products purchased? Or simply rented? Film, game and ebook suppliers need to take a solid stance on consumer rights and license agreements as digital assets become commonplace.

We are the first generation to have lived in a truly digital age, and we are only just beginning to ask questions about the ownership of our digital footprint and online presence. Who owns your Facebook page when you die? Who does your email archive belong to? And when you pay for digital goods, are they yours to keep?

This is largely unchartered territory. And it is likely that legal wrangling will shape a uniformed consensus of terms of purchase within time. Legal professionals in the digital industries have a responsibility to develop and enforce clear and fair clauses in conditions of purchase. And until the market for digital goods matures, this is sure to be an exciting and challenging feat.