Who owns the iTunes Library of Bruce Willis?

Over the last couple of days, there have been rumours flying round across the Internet that Bruce Willis, American actor and all-round hard-man would follow a judicial path in finding out his legal rights in terms of his large music collection. It is believed that Willis wished to leave his apparently vast music collection to his three daughters- Rumer, Scout and Tallulah- instead of it being returned fully to Apple ownership.

In order to understand this situation from a legal basis, it is worth looking into the laws around music ownership. According to their iTunes terms and conditions, Apple say that iTunes:

“…permits you to purchase or rent a license for digital content (“iTunes Products”) for end user use only…”

(Apple, 2012)

So when you buy a product from the iTunes store, you do not actually buy the product iself but rather you buy the legal right to use that product for your own purposes. To put it in a different context, say you want to buy a CD from a shop: when you pay, you do not buy the actual CD but the ability to play that CD through the shop.

The legal definition of a ‘licence’ is “The permission granted by competent authority to exercise a certain privilege that, without such authorisation, would constitute an illegal act” (The Free Dictionary, 2010). The important phrase here is ‘permission’, or in other words a ‘right’ to exercise a privilege. So when we look at Apple’s terms and conditions, they are selling you permission when you buy a product on iTunes, therefore they are in shared licensing relationship with you as they also have the licences you have bought.

Considering all of this, what exactly is Bruce Willis rumoured to do? An article published in the Guardian yesterday wrote that Willis wished to set up ‘family trusts’ to act as legal holders of the downloaded music” (Child, 2012).. The only option for Willis, in his view, is to take Apple to court in on account of perhaps not making the terms of his rights as a downloader clear enough, being shocked to find out his ownership of licences rather than songs.

Some commentators on this story have said that he is very unlikely to succeed in court if that was the chosen path. New Statesmen writes: “For Willis to win, he would most likely have to get the contract declared unenforceable, which would have far more wide-ranging effects” (Hern, 2012). If Willis could prove this against Apple, who regularly update their T&Cs in order to avoid any loopholes for these situations, it would mean that when digital media was downloaded, it was fully downloaded and so could be sold as used material, therefore limiting the control of businesses in these markets and drastically reducing the influence of copyright-protection.

However, to avoid a mass-panic, all of this talk of court-cases is not true. Emma Heming-Willis, Bruce Willis’ wife, tweeted: @richied_ it’s not a true story – Emma Heming-Willis (@EmmaHeming, 2012)

This of course blew the rest of the earlier articles out of the water because none of them contained any statements from Willis or his family. So no download law revolution this time.

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