Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) and other social media sites have compiled a lot of personal data and information about their users. In one sense, that personal information can essentially be a digital legacy for humans, and in a sense to give humans a form of immortality and eternal life. That information could survive in Facebook’s servers for all time, or until the Mayans say it’s all over. And as of now, it isn’t all over for Facebook Inc. (FB) or any of its investors, including billionaire fund manager Steven Cohen of Sac Capital Advisors.
And that “virtual eternal life” might actually be the problem, says one law professor. Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is essentially a “bank” of personal digital assets (name, address, phone number, e-mail address, etc.) just like an actual bank that holds personal monetary assets like checking accounts, saving accounts, CDs, etc. This professor recently wrote a paper suggesting that individuals with a “digital estate” should have the same consent to dispose of digital assets just like material assets.
“Virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death,” said University of Illinois law professor Jason Mazzone in a press release addressing his paper. “[Social media] policies are not likely to reflect the collective interests that exist with respect to copyright law. It’s a little bit like letting the bank decide what to do with your money after you die.”
Right now, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) keeps intact all Walls that belong to deceased users, but all uploaded content is stored away, and Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is under no obligation or requirement to dispose of that data or any user Walls. In his paper, Mazzone makes the argument that a federal law should be crafted that requires users of social-media sites to determine the disposition of their “digital assets” when they pass on. “Whoever uploaded the content has a property right that is protected – it’s not extinguished by anything that Facebook does,” he said. “The trouble is how you or your heirs get your hands on that content. The person who has inherited the copyright, who has the ability to control the uses of the work, can’t take advantage of it because it’s locked away in Facebook’s digital vault.”