Entertainment Industry Gets Social Media Inheritance Bill Amended To Exempt Copyrighted Material

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HB1455, introduced by Rep. Ben Hanson, does two things.

First, it prevents employers from asking employees for access to their online/social media accounts. As I’ve noted previously, this makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of employers asking for that sort of information, but I really don’t like the government putting the employer/employee relationship in a box like this.

Second, it allows for people to make decisions about their social media accounts in their wills. Want all your online data destroyed when you die? You can do that. Want it all left to your friends and/or loved ones? You can do that too, which is important in this day and age when we live so much of our lives online. Family pictures, videos, and writings are important mementos, but they’re not stored in boxes up in the attic any more. Now they’re stored online.

But something interesting happened during the committee process for the bill. Lobbyists for the entertainment industry got the bill amended to exclude copyrighted material from the inheritance section. Here’s the floor debate, with Rep. Thomas Beadle noting the amendment:

I respect copyrights, but I’m not sure I like this amendment, because the entertainment industry is invoking rights they don’t already have.

Here’s an example: If your uncle died 20 years ago he might have left you a box full of copyrighted pictures, movies and books he’d purchased. You could have kept, and used, all those things without breaking the law.

But under this law if your uncle died and left you a Dropbox account full of copyrighted pictures, movies and books he’d purchased you wouldn’t be allowed to access them.

In other words, the entertainment industry is creating a higher standard for copyrights for digital media than previously existed for older sorts of media.

Piracy is obviously a concern, but in this day and age when more and more people are buying e-books, digital music and movie downloads many citizens may be building up large, valuable and perfectly legal collections of digital content. This amendment would seem to put the right of citizens to pass on digital property to their heirs very much in question.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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