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Bequeathing his iTunes collection – frustrated Bruce Willis would be better off in NZ

The UK tabloid press says Hollywood star Bruce Willis is considering legal action against Apple. The Die Hard star discovered he can't leave his iTunes collection to his kids when he dies.

Willis may join legal action underway in five US states seeking to give downloaders more rights.

Whether the story is true or not, it raises an interesting point: most people do not realise they are not buying a song from Apple but a "non-transferrable license" – legalise for the fact you don't actually own the track.

US copyright law doesn't let people share songs.

Would the Die Hard star be better off if he moved to New Zealand?

"We introduced various exceptions into our copyright law in 2008 to cater for new developments like digital music," Lowndes Jordan partner Rick Shera told NBR ONLINE.

"One of those allows digital music or books – not films, mind you – to be copied and shared amongst members of the same household for personal use provided certain conditions are met.

"But the exception does not apply if the terms of use imposed by the platform (for example, iTunes) say otherwise.

"Many online terms do not allow any sharing with anyone else at all, although Apple does allow transfer between what it calls Associated Devices, which may then be switched between accounts."

Copying tracks is no problems on a technical level. In 2009, Apple lifted DRM (digital rights management) protection on tracks sold through iTunes.

Yet its terms and conditions forbid you transferring a track to another account.

But on this point, Mr Shera has a cunning plan.

"If the music collection is not copied at all but is just bequeathed on a device along with the account when someone dies, that may be different," he told NBR.

Unfortunately, it's not immediately clear from iTunes' voluminous, constantly chaning terms and conditions whether this jape would be within Apple's rules – even to an IP expert like Mr Shera.

And therein lies another problem, the Lowndes Jordan partner says.

"This whole issue of consumer unfriendly or even non-understandable online terms is really starting to frustrate people and hit the radar screens of legislators, so I expect we'll see some push back soon."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Comments and questions

Would Bruce be better off if he moved to New Zealand? Hard to say. It would depend on how much of his music collection was no longer available to him (under the iTunes terms and conditions) because they are not sold through the NZ iTunes store ........

Will his kids like his choice of music?

Thought this story was false ?

I haven't seen it confirmed anywhere (as noted). But regardless, it's an interesting point of law.

love the (tongue in cheek?) last line. when was the last time apple did respond to a request for comment?

Internet was great, liberating, enabling revolutionary technology ... then the lawyers showed up.

Bruce should have set himself up with a Digital Assets Protection Trust. One click wonder from the legal eagles.

Buy all digital assets using the DAP Trust and they will be available to the beneficiaries forever. The named beneficiaries can change according to the terms of the trust, e.g. all male descendants of Joe, etc.

Interesting scenario given that within a couple of years they will largely stop manufacturing music CD's. The issue then comes down to the pricing model. Since I joined a pay subscription to Spotify I have pretty much stopped buying CD or individual tracks from iTunes. I'm not keen to pay a full retail price for a music track and then have limitations as to how I use it. A fair model is such as used by digital libraries.

If I borrow an eBook for 3 weeks, at the end of that time I can no longer access it. The same model should apply to iTunes. I can buy a track, decide I no longer want to listen to it and can sell it or give it to someone else, at which point it is no longer available to me. A smart model for iTunes might be to charge a small transfer fee.

Hey CK the Bruce willis thing is a hoax, WIllis has denied the whole thing... time to hit the delete button on this whole shebang perhaps?

Always noted the Willis angle was unconfirmed. Regardless, it's an issue for every iTunes user.

Agree totally - these bizarre licensing terms seem almost designed to push people to piracy. Guess that must eb the music inddustries new moneterization model, revenues from suing kids and the elderly.. Shame Apple is caught in the middle