Legal aspects of transmission of digital assets on death

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2017
Thesis identifier
  • T14689
Person Identifier (Local)
  • 201257675
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis explores the key issues surrounding the transmission of digital assets on death. To answer this primary research questions, the author first looks at the legal nature of digital assets, which are defined as any asset of personal or economic value online (capable of post-mortem transmission). She then analyses in depth the three most typical and widely used types of assets: virtual worlds, emails and social networks. In trying to reach decisions on the legal nature of digital assets, the thesis first looks for help to the institution of property. If an asset can be considered the property of the deceased user, then in most countries it forms part of an estate and transmits on death. The same goes for intellectual property (primarily copyright herein). If an asset cannot and should not be considered property, or protected by copyright, then arguably it cannot transmit on death. The thesis finds that email contents, virtual world items and social network contents are not and should not be considered as property. Some of this content can, however, be protected by copyright and thus is transmissible on death. If significant user interests and expectations exist in the transmission of digital assets on death, therefore, legislative action will be required in the areas of copyright and succession laws. The research demonstrates that some of the content, primarily information and personal data, is neither property nor protected by copyright. For this content, the analysis discusses some alternative legal institutions (breach of confidence, data protection) and argues that their protection can be extended to include the deceased users. The thesis thus introduces a novel phenomenon of post-mortem privacy, the protection of privacy interests of the deceased. It argues that this phenomenon merits a policy and legal account and submits that this concept should foster the user's autonomy and control, preventing the default transmission of digital assets on death. The thesis further looks at the allocation of ownership of assets through service providers' contracts, finding a contradictory approach of service providers regarding ownership and transmission of digital assets. These contracts usually curtail the users' autonomy and control over their assets in life and post-mortem. There have been some recent technological developments led by Google and Facebook, which enable an in-service transmission on the death of some of the content associated with these accounts. These solutions are not free from problems, and the thesis evaluates them and proposes some improvements. User's autonomy is the main underpinning value of the thesis and the basis for some tentative solutions suggested in the thesis.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2017
Former identifier
  • 9912565692802996