Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bruce Willis sues Apple: Truth or Dare?

Is Bruce Willis really suing Apple over iTunes music ownership rights?

Bruce Willis sues Apple: Truth or Dare?


Is Bruce Willis really suing Apple over iTunes music ownership rights?

The oft loose-with-the-truth Daily Mail newspaper in London first reported the story over the weekend, claiming the actor, sometime blue-eyed soul singer and longtime iTunes user “is said to be considering legal action against technology giant Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters” Rumer, 24, Scout, 20 and 18-year-old Tallulah. (Willis also has a newborn). The piece suggested that Willis was investigating the establishment of a “family trust” to maintain rights to the downloaded music, sure to include lots more than Willis’ own pair of Jersey-soul albums.

Today, though, Willis' wife Emma Hemming-Willis tweeted that it’s “not a true story.”

Truth or dare, the yarn now has many a folk fretting about what it really means to “buy” music from the iTunes store or any other competing digital entertainment download sites (including all those Kindle books you’ve “bought” from Amazon. )

Read the fine print “terms and conditions” (few rarely do) that go along with iTunes purchases and you’ll find that Apple is really just selling you a license to play your music on up to five devices - and you can’t pass the content along to others.

Certainly there are workarounds – the easiest being to load the music onto a hard-drive that you pass along. Or you could share your log-in name and password with an “heir.” But what happens if/when the hard drive fails and Apple’s unwilling to stream it again, Sam? And that password sharing business assumes the deceased’s heirs have been smart enough to keep the iTunes account open. Once the doors have been shut, there’s no getting those goodies back.

A UK lawyer Chris Walton quoted in the Mail piece (and wrongly-identified in some follow-up stories as Willis’ attorney) said “lots of people will be surprised on learning all these tracks and books they have bought over the years don’t actually belong to them.” 

Clearly some legal clarification as to inheritance rights for digital content needs to be spelled out and adjusted, if necessary. Ultimately, it’s music companies, book publishers and movie studios who’re setting the terms on pass-along rights in the digital era. And oft agreeing to take less because the content rights will eventually expire.

There hasn’t been a peep out of Apple today on this subject.

Inquirer Columnist
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Jonathan Takiff Inquirer Columnist
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