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What Happens to your Web-based Email After You Die?

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  • What an elegantly simple solution to a sticky problem. Good job with the analysis, and excellent suggestions. Thanks!
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  • I've read this story and very sorry for that.

    This is the first time I hear such problem.

    If someone dies, the world would remember him?

    Only the email is his footmark.





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What Happens to your Web-based Email After You Die?

  1. Ryanne Lai "What Happens to Your Web-based Email After You Die?" 21 st June 200 5
  2. Have you ever wondered… <ul><li>Letters: your property </li></ul><ul><li>After you die, </li></ul><ul><li>they form part of </li></ul><ul><li>your estate </li></ul><ul><li>even if you put them in </li></ul><ul><li>a safe deposit box </li></ul><ul><li>Who owns your emails </li></ul><ul><li>when you die? </li></ul>
  3. The Case of Justin Ellsworth: Background <ul><li>Justin Ellsworth </li></ul><ul><li>20 year-old marine </li></ul><ul><li>killed in Iraq in Nov. 2004 </li></ul><ul><li>Ellsworth's parents requested from Yahoo! the password of their son’s email account </li></ul><ul><li>Yahoo! refused </li></ul>
  4. The Case of Justin Ellsworth: Background <ul><li>Yahoo!’s Terms of Service: </li></ul><ul><li>http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/ </li></ul>
  5. The Case of Justin Ellsworth: Background (ii) the property right to the electronic documents (the soft copies) <ul><li>the intellectual property right </li></ul><ul><li>(i.e. copyright) </li></ul><ul><li>to the content of the account </li></ul>(i) the right to access and use the email account
  6. Who Owns What? <ul><li>Terms of Service: a binding contract </li></ul><ul><li>account is non-transferable </li></ul>(i) the right to access and use the email account <ul><li>safe deposit boxes: </li></ul><ul><li>survivors get the right to the </li></ul><ul><li>contents of the safe deposit boxes, </li></ul><ul><li>not the right to access and use </li></ul><ul><li>the safe deposit boxes. </li></ul>
  7. Who Owns What? (ii) the property right to the electronic documents (the soft copies) “ personal chattels”: Intestates' Estates Ordinance (Cap. 73) ownership of electronic information ownership of the storage medium
  8. Who Owns What? (ii) the property right to the electronic documents (the soft copies) <ul><li>Emails: a kind of personal property? </li></ul><ul><li>Two main components: </li></ul><ul><li>1. contents </li></ul><ul><li>2. source codes </li></ul>Justin’s emails Yahoo!’s servers
  9. Who Owns What? <ul><li>“ literary work”: s. 4, Copyright Ordinance (Cap. 528) </li></ul><ul><li>the intellectual property right (i.e. copyright) to the content of the account </li></ul>Terms of Service: Yahoo! does not claim ownership of content submitted by the user
  10. Who Owns What? <ul><li>the intellectual property right (i.e. copyright) to the content of the account </li></ul><ul><li>Limitations: </li></ul><ul><li>Cannot demand copies of emails </li></ul><ul><li>unless Yahoo! “knows or has reason to believe” that the emails have been or are to be used to make infringing copies: s. 109 , Copyright Ordinance </li></ul><ul><li>Confined to emails composed by Justin </li></ul>
  11. The Privacy Problem <ul><li>Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486) </li></ul><ul><li>Only applies to “personal data” </li></ul><ul><li>and to data user that controls the collection, </li></ul><ul><li>holding, processing or use of personal data. </li></ul><ul><li>Common Law: </li></ul><ul><li>no such protection either </li></ul>
  12. Outcome of the Ellsworth Case <ul><li>In the matter of Justin M. </li></ul><ul><li>Ellsworth, Deceased, </li></ul><ul><li>No. 2005-296,651-DE </li></ul><ul><li>(Oakland Co., Mich., Prob. Ct.) </li></ul><ul><li>Yahoo! was ordered </li></ul><ul><li>to provide the family of </li></ul><ul><li>Justin Ellsworth with </li></ul><ul><li>soft copies of all email </li></ul><ul><li>sent to and from his </li></ul><ul><li>email account </li></ul>Question of public interest?
  13. Steps to Take to Avoid Litigation <ul><li>For service providers: </li></ul><ul><li>Let subscribers </li></ul><ul><li>indicate their </li></ul><ul><li>preference when </li></ul><ul><li>they sign up </li></ul><ul><li>for the service </li></ul>
  14. Steps to Take to Avoid Litigation <ul><li>For end users: </li></ul><ul><li>Write a letter </li></ul><ul><li>to your executor </li></ul><ul><li>Set up a trust </li></ul><ul><li>Put list of passwords in safe deposit box </li></ul><ul><li>Specify in the will </li></ul><ul><li>the person you </li></ul><ul><li>want your email ownership to be transferred to </li></ul><ul><li>Entrust passwords to </li></ul><ul><li>people you trust </li></ul>
  15. Conclusion <ul><li>Web service providers </li></ul><ul><li>now offer more storage </li></ul><ul><li>capacity </li></ul>What have your clients been asking you to do? What have you decided to do? ? ? ? A need to clarify the law in this area
  16. The End <ul><li>Thank you! </li></ul>

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