Last week Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill (HB) 345, “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act”, giving heirs and the executors to estates the same rights over digital content which they would have over physical property.
In a case of life imitating art, the new law basically accomplishes what the Daily Mail fictitiously reported in 2012 that Bruce Willis wanted to accomplish; ebooks and other digital content can now be inherited.
Delaware is the first state to follow the latest suggestion from the Uniform Law Commission, a non-profit group that crafts model legislation and lobbies to enact it across all jurisdictions in the United States. Last month the ULC adopted a new legal standard, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), which laid out what rights heirs should have over digital content belonging to the deceased.
Delaware is reportedly the first state to take the UFADAA boilerplate and pass it. While a few states, including Indiana, Virginia, and Rhode Island, do have some statutes related to the digital assets of the deceased, those provisions are far less comprehensive than the new Delaware law.
But even though those laws are more limited in scope, they will probably continue to have a greater impact on legal rulings. The new law in Delaware only affects Delaware residents and wills being probated there. It does not affect the tech companies registered in the state, according to one spokesperson. "If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345," Kelly Bachman, a spokesperson for the Delaware governor’s office, said by email.
But even with the limited impact, this is still good news for digital rights advocates such as myself. Along with the ReDigi decision, which said that you could resell digital content under certain circumstances, the new law is a major milestone in a growing legal trend.
Year by year, consumers are gaining more rights over the digital content they buy. If this trend continues then it won't be long before consumers have the same rights over digital content as they do over physical goods.
And while that might upset certain middlemen, as a consumer I am quite pleased.