I have over 30,000 songs in my iTunes library and many of those songs were directly purchased from iTunes. I’ve scattered that musical library to Amazon and a portion of it to Google. Lately, I’ve been wondering what would happen to all that music if something happened to me. Sure, my wife could grab it, but should I ultimately plan to donate all that music to a school or sell off bits of the collection?

When I read this week that Bruce David was suing iTunes because Apple would not let him leave his music library to his kids — I realized I was not alone in my thinking in this Digital Age of not really owning anything even though you have physical custody of what you actually purchased:

Earlier today, there was a rumor that Bruce Willis was considering to sue Apple to clarify who owns content downloaded from iTunes. The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported – and as with all things involving British tabloids, you should take this with a grain of salt – that Willis “is said to be considering legal action against technology giant Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters.” While contemplating his death, Willis apparently noticed something most iTunes users also conveniently ignore: even though Apple now provides you with DRM-free files, all you own is a license to play your music on up to five devices under your control and you can’t legally pass them on to others.

While the Willis rumor was debunked — the heart of the issue still remains: Do we own our digital music or not? If we do, can we sell our library on eBay or bequeath it to a university music school? Can we hand down our music to others in our immediate family?

As it stands right now, the answer is that we only have a temporary license to the music we buy — we don’t actually “own” it or have any other physical right to shape it or reproduce it or strategically store it or share it without violating some cyber law somewhere.

I remember the good old bad days when it was similarly “illegal” to tape record a vinyl album and when you could not copy a music CD to another CD — even though everybody made copies anyway. Now we’re in the Age of Paying for something you download that you don’t really own, and cannot share or distribute, because you never really bought it, you only paid a pseudo-rental fee that dies when you die.

I’m sure all of this will have to change when people realize they don’t actually own anything they buy from the Apple iTunes store or other online digital music venues — and those good folks will be miffed, and then righteously furious, that they can’t leave behind a musical library of their loves and likes for others to enjoy after them.

When I was a kid, FM radio stations would help you pirate new albums by “debuting” them “without commercial interruption” and then playing each side of the album from start to finish — with an appropriate break to flip over the album to give you enough time to similarly flip over your tape cassette so you could record the second side of the album.

Today, we have the Amazon Music Importer that picks your iTunes library to pieces for uploading and playing and storage in your own Amazon Cloud Player. Sure, there are identifying markers on the music file pointing the original licensing of the song, but once the iTunes music is on Amazon, who can take it away from you?

With Amazon’s help, it seems much easier to leave your immortal musical library legacy behind to your kids — or to your favorite charity if the desire so strikes you — and you don’t even have to flip over the cassette tape to make it happen. Just click a button and go and your purchased music is set free for an eternity without you.


  1. David,

    That’s why I’m glad that so many of the records that I buy are physical records. It’s too bad that they are so large that having a big collection makes it necessary to have much space to store them — and, of course, keeping up with a good sharp needle that needs replacing every so often…

    1. I wonder what the law is when it comes to making a “backup copy” of your albums. For your own use is fine, I’m sure, but I bet you can’t legally give a CD copy to someone.

      1. If you borrow a CD from a library and iTunes automatically rips it because you have it set to rip all CDs, has your computer committed a crime — or you? (Neither?)

        1. I would say the guilt is in the hand that knowingly places the CD into a computer that allows ripping via iTunes! You can always delete music from iTunes, too, if automatic settings are not known.

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