Protect Digital Assets After Your Death us digital millennium copyright act yahoo answers

Protect Digital Assets After Your Death From social media to online bills, it is essential to plan what will happen to your virtual life once you are gone.


By Eleanor Laise , Senior Editor
From Kiplinger's Retirement Report, May 2013

Let's face it: Your e-mail account, Facebook page and online photo albums are likely to outlive you. Deciding how to manage your digital legacy just may be your trickiest estate-planning task.

See Also: Special Report on Estate Planning

As people increasingly live—and die—online, family members and estate executors are left to sift through e-mail messages, Facebook status updates, blog posts, tweets and other digital remains that may have significant financial or personal value. And even if they have all the required passwords, many heirs will find they have no clear authority to access or manage the online accounts of the deceased. A confusing and sometimes contradictory snarl of online user agreements and state and federal laws can restrict Internet users' ability to transfer their online accounts to loved ones after their death and prevent families from retrieving information stored in the digital realm.

Despite the devilish details, it's essential to include online accounts in the estate-planning process. Failure to plan ahead may prevent loved ones from recovering family photos or videos or settling your final bills. It also could leave your estate vulnerable to post-mortem identity theft, if fraudsters decide to apply for credit cards in your name while nobody's watching your accounts.

What's more, a library of digital music or an Internet domain name that you own may have financial value that's significant to your estate. The domain name, for example, recently sold for $60,000, according to domain-name marketplace Sedo. "We shouldn't dismiss our digital assets as insignificant or unimportant," says Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife (New Riders, $25). "The things that may seem ephemeral to us are very valuable to heirs once we're gone."


The value of these assets can go far beyond the financial worth in the wake of a loved one's death. After her brother died in 2011, Melinda Miller quickly had his Facebook account "memorialized," meaning friends can still post messages on his page, but no one can log in to the account. "That first six months, I didn't know if my parents were going to recover" from the loss, says Miller, 41, an elementary school principal in Springfield, Mo. But as friends have continued to post photos, songs and holiday greetings on her brother's page, "it's very comforting to the family to see the messages continue," she says. "It's like a memory wall."

The first step for seniors starting to navigate this new world of digital estate planning is to recognize the obstacles they face. Each online service provider has its own terms of service—the legal mumbo-jumbo you click through when you open your account—and those terms often say that you can't transfer your account or hand off your password to anyone else. Those restrictions pose a challenge for heirs who might want to access your e-mail account, for example, to retrieve bills and other documents.

Providers differ on how they handle the accounts of deceased users, but some are starting to help users plan their digital afterlife. The Yahoo terms of service, for example, say that "any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death," and accounts may be deleted if a death certificate is submitted. Google in April introduced a new feature allowing users to specify that after a certain period of inactivity their account data should be deleted or passed along to specific individuals. At Facebook, relatives may be able to request the contents of the account—a lengthy process involving a court order—or ask that the page be deleted.

Federal laws present another hurdle. If you use your late mother's password to log on to her account, you may violate not only the provider's terms of service but also the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which governs certain unauthorized access to computers. And a federal privacy law, the Stored Communications Act, can limit providers' ability to share deceased users' account contents with relatives.


A handful of states, meanwhile, have passed laws attempting to clarify executors' power to manage a deceased person's digital assets. But given the variations in the state laws, federal laws and technology companies' terms of service, some legal experts say such legislation has done little to remedy the confusion. "It is a very unsettled area" of law, says Gerry Beyer, law professor at Texas Tech University. The Uniform Law Commission, which helps standardize state laws across the U.S. by drafting model legislation, currently has a committee working on the issue.

Some accounts that you access online don't pose much of an estate-planning challenge. Because financial institutions have clear procedures for handling an account holder's death, it's relatively straightforward for executors to arrange for the transfer of assets to beneficiaries, estate planners say.

Protecting Your Digital Afterlife

Although many other online accounts remain in a legal fog, seniors who take a few simple steps now can greatly increase the odds that their online afterlife will be handled according to their wishes.

First, take inventory of all your online accounts, including e-mail, social networks, blogging sites, photo-sharing sites, frequent-flier accounts, shopping sites such as, credit card accounts, and online bill-payment accounts, such as those established with utilities. For each account, list log-in and password information as well as answers to "secret" questions.


The security of such a list is a critical question. One solution: Use a password-management system such as or 1Password ( ). These services will encrypt your log-in and password information and keep it stored on your own computer. You'll have a master password to unlock the data, so it's easy to retrieve and update password information. Another option: Save the list in a password-protected document on your computer. Don't put any password information in your will, which becomes a public document.

When you've completed your inventory, write down where you've stored the information and the master password needed to access it. Put that information in your safe deposit box or in your attorney's vault. Seniors creating a power of attorney document should also include specific language authorizing their agents to deal with their digital assets, Beyer says.

Next, consider signing a statement, which can be drafted by an estate-planning lawyer, authorizing the companies that hold your online information to disclose that information to your executor or jmchdgvv. moncler vest womensother representative, says James Lamm, estate-planning attorney at Gray Plant Mooty, in Minneapolis. The authorization may be included in your will. That way, your executor can request a copy of the contents of your online accounts, rather than trying to access the account directly—and possibly running afoul of the terms of service or federal law, Lamm says. "That should work, but I can't guarantee it," he says. "That's as good as we can get under current law."

Seniors may be able to avoid sticky legal questions by downloading their online account information to a home computer. Some tech companies are making this process easier. Facebook, for example, allows users to get a copy of all of their correspondence with friends, photos and other account content in a single download. A service called Backupify ( ) will also help download content from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and other personal accounts.


A cottage industry of online data-management companies has begun selling services that claim to transfer your digital assets to your beneficiaries. One such service is offered by SecureSafe, launched in 2009 by Zurich-based online storage company DSwiss. It has already signed up more than 300,000 individuals and is adding roughly 10,000 new customers a week, says spokesman Andreas Jacob. But legal experts say such services don't resolve the potential conflicts with online providers' terms of service or federal laws. SecureSafe's terms of service say that users must comply with the laws of their own country, Jacob says.

Even when family members have shared all their passwords with each other, managing online accounts can be difficult. Karen Marcus, 39, of Richmond, Va., had all of her husband's passwords when he died in 2010, but she didn't have all of the log-in IDs he used for online bill payments. She tried to convert the online bills back to paper statements, which wasn't an easy process. Her electricity was turned off, she says, after the power company was slow to send her the paper bill that she had requested. But when dealing with such a loss, she says, "you don't know what day it is, what time it is. And you want to make things as simple, as tactile, as possible."

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When Is Downloading Music on the Internet Illegal? Tweet Posted December 22, 2004 By Vangie Beal Related Terms download upload file PMP - Portable Music Player SMDI 4shared MIDI drive-by download DRM-Free Pandora

So your daughter wants the new Black Eyed Peas CD , or perhaps you're looking to make a nice Christmas music compilation for playing over the holidays. For many people it is as simple as opening one of many peer-to-peer file share programs , selecting the tracks, downloading and burning the tracks to a CD .

Downloading Music: Legal Issues in Canada and the United States

What isn't so simple about downloading music is the copyright protection laws that people break everyday by downloading some music tracks off the Internet . To make matters even more muddled, some music can be lawfully downloaded, and for those that aren't, laws regarding the sharing and downloading of music on the Internet vary from country to country.

In Canada, for example, downloading copyright music from peer-to-peer networks is legal, but uploading those files is not. Canada has a private copying levy, which grants the right to make personal, noncommercial copies of sound recordings. Canada has imposed levies (fees) on recording mediums like blank CDs and similar items. These levies are used to fund musicians and songwriters for revenues lost  due to consumer copying. For this reason, you do not see huge fines and court cases regarding illegally copied music in Canada, like you see in the U.S.A. Also, Canada initially charged this tax on MP3 players, but a recent Supreme Court decision ruled that the law was written in such a way that these players were exempt from the tax.

The Canadian Conservative government tabled an amendment to the Copyright Bill (C-61) in June of 2008. This bill would have made circumventing all digital locks illegal, and would see statutory damage award of $500 up to up to $20,000 per instance for music downloads, amongst other changes. The government who tabled the bill was defeated before the bill became legislation, however. The Canadian Private Copying Collective is still pursuing the reinstatement of levies on MP3 players in Canada.

In contrast, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act is much more strict and deems copying of copyrighted music (with the exception of making a copy for your own use) as illegal. The U.S. Code protects copyright owners from the unauthorized reproduction, adaptation or distribution of sound recordings, as well as certain digital performances to the public. In more general terms, it is considered legal for you to purchase a music CD and record ( rip ) it to MP3 files for your own use only. Uploading these files via peer-to-peer networks would constitute a breach of the law.

In the United States if you copy or distribute copyrighted music you can be prosecuted in criminal court or sued for damages in civil court. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can be as high as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines, even if you didn't copy and distribute for financial or commercial gain.

At Issue: Revenue Loss

One of the big issues concerning the music industry is, of course, the revenue loss. In theory, if a person is able to download his or her favorite music off the Internet, that person would not need to purchase the CD at a local music store. Every story you read will most likely produce a different set of numbers the music industry claims it has lost due to music downloading. The most common average of numbers seems to sit around a loss of 20 percent globally in sales since 1999.

Organizations that support music sharing and downloading however have thrown a wrench into the statistics released by the music industry as they suggest some of these losses are due to a bad economy and fewer "new releases" hitting the market in some of those years. It is obvious that the music industry has to be losing some money due to Internet music file sharing, but finding the exact amount lost due to music downloading isn't so simple. One thing that is for certain however is that the loss affects the industry, the musicians, and even sound technicians, recording studios, and music stores.

The music industry and even some musicians who feel they are taking a loss due to the sharing of their copy-protected works online have started fighting back, so to speak. In recent months there have been more cases of music piracy heading to the courts. From the creators of peer-to-peer and music sharing program authors, to individual users uploading and sharing copy-protected works online, more people are finding themselves in court trying to avoid paying monetary damages and trying to prove that what they are doing is in fact, fair use.

As mentioned on the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the penalties for breaching the copyright act differ slightly depending upon whether the infringing is for commercial or private financial gain. If you think being caught infringing on these copyright laws will result in a small fine or "slap on the wrist", think again. In the U.S.,  the online infringement of copyrighted music can be punished by up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned up to six years. Individuals also may be held civilly liable, regardless of whether the activity is for profit, for actual damages or lost profits, or for statutory damages up to $150,000 per infringed copyright.

If there are so many lawful issues surrounding the downloading of music, you might wonder why there is such an influx of MP3 players, CD burners, and even software that allows users to easily rip music from a CD to their computer . The simple answer is that these devices do have a legitimate and legal fair use association. As mentioned earlier, you may choose to make your personal back-up copy to use in a MP3 player, or you use Web sites , like iTunes, which offers music that you pay for as you download.

DID YOU KNOW...? In 2009 four men connected to The Pirate Bay, one of the largest BitTorrent file-sharing sites, were convicted by a Swedish court of contributory copyright infringement. Each defendant was sentenced to 1 year in prison and were ordered to pay a joint fine of 30 million Swedish crowns ($3.58 million).  by industry investigators. [Source:]

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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