It was once fashionable for people to leave their ‘earthly possessions’ to the fortunate few. Presumably this was since their wealth in the ‘heavenly realms’ did not have title deeds for solicitors to transfer.
The digital era has re-awakened the debate regarding the substance of virtual wealth. Biz News believes $20 billion-worth of Bitcoin is missing because the owners forgot their wallet pins. In whose wallet is that virtual wealth now?
A Tale of Matilda Thompson’s Childhood Photos
The Mail Online reported the bittersweet tale of Matilda Thompson’s childhood photos on May 18, 2019. These resided on her dad’s Apple phone even though her parents had split up without separating. Matt still had a key to the family house and he could come and go to see his daughter more or less as he wanted.
And then came crunch time when he died intestate without transferring ownership of 4.500 photos and 900 videos residing on his Apple phone. This was tragedy for young Matilda in her mid-teens, who was accustomed to scrolling through them with her loving dad.
In truth, the images were the history of her life. If they were gone forever, she would have no memories of her formative years to share with her own children.
Such is the reality of digital possessions. Store them elsewhere or you could lose them forever. We wrote this post to alert others how transient they and life can be.
Apple Refuses to Give Up Its ‘Secrets’
Matt did not leave a will and so his earthly possessions passed to Matilda’s mum Rachel. However, she and Matilda were denied access when they tried to start the phone because only Matt knew the user name and password.
Their disappointment turned to disaster when Apple told them its user contracts were ‘non-transferable and rights to content terminate on death unless otherwise required by law’. In fact, Rachel would require a costly court order before Apple give her access to the videos and photos.
What the Apple Contract Says in Abridged Form
“Licensor grants to you a non-transferable license to use the licensed application on any Apple-branded products that you own or control and as permitted by the usage rules …
You may not transfer, redistribute or sublicense the licensed application and, if you sell your Apple device to a third party, you must remove the licensed application from the Apple device before doing so …
Law Brings a Rotten Apple to a Happy Ending
It takes more than a bad Apple to bring Rachel Thompson down. She assembled a legal team who agreed to work for free after they realized the phone also contained photos of Rachel’s father who died eighteen months previously.
Four years later, the other day the Central London County Court, Judge Jan Luba presiding instructed Apple to hand the images over. He also called for a ‘simpler way to handle such cases’. Amen to that!
More Deep-Seated Questions for which We Need Answers
Of what possible benefit was it to Apple to deprive Rachel and Matilda of their family memories? What if anything did they plan to do with them, barring deleting them remotely?
Rachel’s barrister Matt Himsworth took a softer approach when he told Mail Online “I don’t want to paint them as ogres, because they weren’t. It was just there is no legal framework for all this. The law has to catch up.”
Until that time comes, it’s clear we need a safer-storing strategy for PIN’s for devices and currencies. Perhaps we also need to edit our wills to read “I bequeath my earthly possessions and my digital assets to … etc, etc, etc”.