Legal Drama

Music Law: ‘The Bruce Willis Dilemma? In the Digital Era, we Own Nothing’

The article below is a very interesting one shared by AML reader Ade Olufeko,  Digital Strategist & Consultant. I think the legal issue raised, specifically copyright ownership in the digital age, from the user perspective, raises the question of whether copyright laws, in general, need an overhaul in a modern/digital age. I also believe there is even more litigation to come in this area, the take no prisoners kind.

The story below:

“Bruce Willis, the movie star, may or may not be amazed that he’s not allowed to bequeath his Apple iTunes music collection to his children. A Daily Mail story alleging this has apparently been disowned by the actor’s wife.

Whether the story is true or not, it nonetheless highlights one of the largely unspoken – and outrageous – realities of the digital age: ownership is disappearing.

Publishers of books, music and movies have always wanted a world in which consumers of these media must pay again and again for the privilege. And as content moves into digital formats, the entertainment is moving within legal if not technical reach of that goal.

The Mail’s story quotes a lawyer making a key point:

Lots of people will be surprised on learning all those tracks and books they have bought over the years don’t actually belong to them. It’s only natural you would want to pass them on to a loved one.

Natural, maybe, but a violation of the onerous terms and conditions that Apple, Amazon and the other “sellers” of digital content impose on their customers. Despite promotional language – in giant letters – with the words “buy” and “purchase”, you are only buying a license to use the material yourself, and legally that’s all. So, who inherits your library, under today’s system? Nobody, and that’s just wrong.

Now, Willis can easily ensure that his MP3s will be usable by his children. All he has to do is move the files onto an external hard disk and hand it to one of them, which he could do with a CD or vinyl-record collection. I would stress one of his daughters, because even though I consider current copyright laws an abomination, I also believe that transferring the material to more than one person would violate the spirit of copyright.

If you think Apple’s MP3 terms of service are bad (they are), they’re no worse than Amazon’s, which also pretends to sell music. In fact, you’re only renting it. (As the holder of a small number of Amazon shares, I’m dismayed by the company’s kowtowing to corporate interests this way, but understand that it, like Apple, has little choice given the entertainment giants’ clout.)

There’s no indication in the Mail story that Willis wants the same transfer rights for any movies he’s downloaded and stored in his iTunes archive. Most likely, he owns the DVDs and/or Blue-Ray disks and would just hand them over. Perhaps he’s fine with the digital rights management (DRM) that – though laughably easy to break – prevents re-use of movies and TV shows in the same way that unprotected music, which is now the norm, easily allows.

Not all publishers put DRM or huge restrictions on their material. I’d encourage people to buy from them whenever possible, and encourage the right thing by voting with your wallet. . .”

The Guardian UK has the full story.

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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