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Death 2.0: What Becomes of Digital Assets after Death?"

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Death seems to be discussed in web 2.0 circles only when it is tragic (eg internet suicide clusters) or in some other newsworthy (eg the Lori Drew online harassment case ). Yet if Facebook alone claim some 400 million subscribers, then it stands to reason that some of them will be reaching their final end as I write in quite ordinary ways. Yet the law is vague in the extreme (and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction) on who would “own” a user’s Facebook profile in that sad event; and more significantly, what rights either the deceased or the heirs might have against Facebook to demand that the profile be deleted, maintained as a going concern, exported or preserved(“memorialised”). Nor is this problem confined to Facebook. Digital assets will be increasingly important as items in succession – and as cultural heritage – as the web 2.0 generation ages; and might include not only profiles on social networking sites, but also reputations and identities on money-making sites like eBay, photos on sites like Flickr and even user preferences on sites like Yet so far little or no attention has been paid to the legal nature and transmission of digital assets, except within the limited (if glamorous) domain of virtual property in virtual worlds and MMORP Gs. Neither are all digital assets likely to fall into categories of recognisable intellectual property (IP) protection. This paper seeks to investigate this domain, having regard to the interests of user, relatives, platform and especially, the public interest in preservation of online cultural heritage.

About the speaker

Professor Edwards’s principal research interests are in the law relating to the Internet, the Web and new technologies, with a European and comparative focus. She has co-edited three bestselling collections on Law and the Internet (Hart Publishing, 1997, 2000 and 2009) with Charlotte Waelde, and a third collection of essays—The New Legal Framework for E-Commerce—in Europe was published in 2005. Her work in on-line consumer privacy won the Barbara Wellbery Memorial Prize in 2004 for the best solution to the problem of privacy and transglobal data flows. She worked at Strathclyde University from 1986-1988 and Edinburgh University from 1989 to 2006 before moving to become Chair of Internet Law at Southampton from 2006-2008. She is Associate Director, and was co-founder, of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Centre for IP and Technology Law, funded from 2002-2012. She has taught IT, e-commerce and Internet law at undergraduate and postgraduate level since 1996 and been involved with law and artificial intelligence (AI) since 1985. She has been a visiting scholar and invited lecturer to universities in the USA , Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Latin America and has undertaken consultancy for the the European Parliament, the European commission and McAfee.

This talk is part of the Arcadia Project Seminars series.

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