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Think you own your digital music? Think again

British newspapers stirred up the tech world last week when they reported that actor Bruce Willis is fighting mad at Apple and its iTunes terms of service.


According to the story, Willis wants to give his vast digital music library to his three daughters after he dies, but that would likely cause legal woes for his heirs unless digital content rules change.

Now, the story turned out to be a joke, but the topic it raises is very real.

Legal experts say that when you buy a song from popular sites like the iTunes Store and Amazon MP3, you don't acquire ownership of the file. You merely own a license to enjoy the song for your personal, noncommercial use, and that license is nontransferable.

You don't need to be a lawyer to parse this section of the Amazon MP3 Store's agreement: "The Store, Software and Music Content embodies intellectual property that is protected by law. You do not acquire any ownership rights in the Software or Music Content."

This is a different ballgame compared to traditional albums and CDs, which can be inherited or given away.

You can bequeath your prized vinyl copy of Exile on Main Street, the 1972 Rolling Stones classic, to your son. But you can't bestow the 2010 reissue of the album if it was downloaded from the iTunes Store.

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