Reality Check: Your digital collection is worthless

So you’ve probably all read the fake story about Bruce Willis wanting to pass on his collection of music to his kids, but being “codeblocked” by Apple, who have some fine print about proprietary rights. In essence, as one intellectual property lawyer put it, it’s like loaning a horse from some guy, and then expecting your kids to be able to ride the horse when you die. Or something. I tuned out when I read “intellectual property lawyer”.

Now, there’s probably a serious debate going on somewhere online about how “evil” Apple is for essentially treating us like thieves and not handing over any rights to the digital files we purchased with our hard earned cash. And while that’s all good and valid, it has to be asked: Why in the world would anyone want to bequeath their collection of MP3s to their next of kin?

Let’s all just pretend for a second that Bruce Willis is a real person who really really wanted his children to inherit his “many, many iPods” worth of Architecture In Helisinki rarities, Black Rebel Motorcycle B-sides and The Strokes’ first album (because all the others are shit). Let’s pretend that “Bruce” has spent years carefully cultivating this collection by opening iTunes and clicking his mouse a couple times until he finds something he likes. Wouldn’t it be, like, really unfair if all this clicking and cultivating amounted to something that would just die – hard – with him?

“Being handed a couple generic drives full of faceless MP3s is hardly something to remember someone by, especially if you were expecting some sort of inheritance.”

For all those people thinking, “Right on, Detective John McClane, you tell those Apple overlords they can’t take what’s rightfully ours”, here’s a reality check: Your collection of digital music isn’t worth the $100 Dick Smith hard drive it’s imprinted on. Digital music is designed to be impermanent. It’s a format that’s decaying with every passing moment. Have you ever tried to open a Word 1994 document on your new MacBook? Or tried to play a Betamax tape in a Blu-ray player? By the time your child inherits your collection of antiquities from a bygone era, they will probably have some implant in their brain that allows them to play music through the power of telekinesis. They’ve no doubt got an account with Rdio or Spotify already, which means they could stream your precious Boz Scaggs collection right now if they really wanted to. (They don’t.)

Being handed a couple generic drives full of faceless MP3s is hardly something to remember someone by, especially if you were expecting some sort of inheritance. Even if your kids somehow manage to open the files you’ve mislabelled and compressed to buggery, they’ll be presented with a screen full of unfamiliar titles and zeitgeist-y names. Is anyone really going to want to listen to a band called alt-J in 2043? The great thing about flipping through your parents’ record collection was stumbling upon some weird or evocative cover that’d compel you to listen to it even though you’d never heard of The Ohio Players before.

So if, like Bruce, you’re (allegedly) interested in creating a musical footprint for your descendants to trod in for all eternity, perhaps you should invest in something a little more permanent like vinyl. Because there’s absolutely no chance of a representative from Apple coming round to confiscate the cheesy disco 7”s you found in an op-shop in Dromana anyway.


Darren Levin is the editor-in-chief of FasterLouder. He owns music in a variety of formats.