45 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2012 Last revised: 22 Aug 2014
Date Written: 2012
People spend an increasing part of their lives using Facebook and other online social networking sites. However, virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death. This is true even though individuals have privacy interests in materials they post to social networking sites; such sites are repositories of intellectual property, as well as materials important to family members and friends; and historians of the future will depend upon digital archives to reconstruct the past. In the absence of legal regulation, social networking sites determine on their own what, if anything, to do with a deceased user’s account and the materials the user posted to the site. Yet allowing social networking sites to set their own policies with respect to decedents’ accounts does not adequately protect the individual and collective interests at stake. The law, particularly federal law, can and should play a stronger role in regulating social networking sites and in determining the contours of our digital afterlives.
Keywords: Facebook, digital assets, social networking, deceased users, intellectual property assets, wills, online accounts, digital afterlife
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