Digital Purgatory: Data Remains After Death
In the spirit of the upcoming Halloween season, I thought it a fine time to examine what happens to our digital lives after death. Few of us really consider our digital remains but I’d encourage you to do so for many reasons.
Like our physical bodies, our electronic personifications serve no purpose to us once we die right? That may be true for many people but I have a few long-held alternative ideas about that subject. The bottom line is this however; electronic information you have placed here and there in cyber-space does not die with you.
I have for a very long time considered my digital persona as my effective immortality which is quite appealing to me. I’m rather cranky that this physical existence has an expiration date but the electronic manifestation of my physical existence lives on. To me, the big question is really where it resides and who my caretakers are?
In our modern society, one of the tools I use to answer this question is in the data protection laws and copyright laws. It is not difficult to wrap our electronic lives in copyright law. How long does a copyright last you ask? The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first (Source: US Copyright Office).
Using copyright law, we are well on our way to immortality aren’t we? Well, at least we are able to extend ourselves for at least 70 years beyond death before we enter the public domain. The current copyright laws encourage the reuse and publication of information. At some point in time, all of those email messages, tweets, blog posts and other contributions to social and professional media will be completely under the control of the handlers. Companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, GoDaddy and the countless others will have the freedom to do whatever they like to your digital remains.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps taking a proactive approach is prudent. What I mean by this is that you should consider what the electronic universe looks like and make some plans for it. If it’s a funeral that you want, then periodically purge data where it lives. You can also establish a living will with instructions to do this as well. Your executor and heirs will need the court instructions to carry this request out so document it now while you can.Continued on the next page