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Let’s get digital - who owns what?

Let’s get digital - who owns what?

Let’s get digital

Today, I went onto a social media website, and saw a photo I just had to share. I took a screen cap of the photo, and texted it straight on to a friend.

Sound familiar?

The technology that’s become a magical part of our daily routines didn’t even register in Marty McFly’s wildest dreams. If you had told the pre-teen me that one day I’d be able to take a photo, view it, and share it with 500-odd “friends” all within about two and a half minutes, or that I could spend my days doing nothing but watching videos of cats on my phone, I probably would’ve laughed in your face – and not just because I don’t think anyone actually has 500 friends. But, somehow, this is exactly the crazy world in which we live.


But with this new power (and convenience), comes a great new responsibility. Have you ever stopped to think – who owns this digital “stuff” – stuff that might include photos of your kids, the song you walked down the aisle to at your wedding, or the pdf contract to build a new home sitting in your email inbox?


In the good old days, it was pretty simple. The photos were printed and in the album on the coffee table. You paid for the camera, the film and the cost of developing the prints. The song was on the CD you paid for and kept in the rack next to the TV. The pieces of paper in the filing cabinet you paid for were yours, and no one else’s.

It might be easy enough to work out who owns the phone or tablet you’re using to access the digital stuff; but what about the digital files stored on the device? Or even the files stored on an external storage facility, like that mythical cloud thing I’ve heard so many people talk about?

You might not think that it matters a whole lot, as long as you can access whatever you need, whenever and wherever you need it, but what will happen to this “stuff” when you die, or if you breakup with the person who shares your ‘jackandjill4eva’ email address (remembering that the email address is usually also the key you need to unlock the door to a lot of your other services)?

The terms of use of software and apps will usually let you know what your rights are in relation to the material stored and shared on these things. I’m not going to try to take a poll of how many of you have actually read these terms of use from beginning to end, because I’m pretty sure I know the answer. A lot of people probably think that the “I accept” button is just slowing us all down, and we’re going to use the services whether we like their terms of use or not.

The point is, depending on what’s important to you, it can be important to work out what you control, what you own, and what you’ve just got permission to use for just a little while.

The way we use, share and keep our “assets” is changing so quickly, that when I think about it too hard it makes my head spin a little bit, like I need to go and lie down and play some Angry Candy Rescue for a while. Unfortunately, it seems like the lawmakers are feeling the same, and the position on some of these things is all still a little bit unclear (especially in Australia, because some of those fun “terms of use” are actually governed by US law). Things are changing every day, and the law is paying close attention, but will probably be playing catch up for a little while yet.

Basically, watch this space, because digital assets are the way of the present. What can you do in the meantime? Pay attention to what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you would want to happen to your assets if you were no longer around.

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Friday, 07 May 2021

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