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Digital inheritance laws remain murky


The following ran in the Sept. 18, 2012, edition of USA Today. Law professor Xuan-Thao Nguyen provided expertise for this story.

September 19, 2012

By Roger Yu

Score one for dead trees.

Printed books and CDs might have the edge over their digital counterparts at one inevitable point of our lives: death.

Physical media -- music, books, movies -- usually can be passed on to heirs without overly burdensome legal complications. But when it comes to digital files, the legal landscape remains murky and has failed to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancements, analysts say.

Consumers now have places to buy their digital content -- ranging from Amazon and Apple to Google. And those sellers have varying terms of use that few purchasers bother to read. Further complicating matters is the shift to store more of our digital media files in the cloud on those companies' remote servers....

Xuan-Thao Nguyen, an intellectual property law professor at Southern Methodist University, has a more liberal interpretation of companies' terms of use. If a company doesn't specify a specific time period for content licensing, users may argue that the content belongs to them in perpetuity. "It's incumbent on them to draft the term limit of the license," she says....