Rights Under Apple’s iTunes Terms and Conditions

On May 6, 2011, CNN posted an article titled “What You Should Know About iTunes’ 56–Page Legal Terms” by Umika Pidaparthy. I’ve been asked several times “what happens to my iTunes songs and any unused cash balance in my iTunes account when I die?” So, I thought this was an interesting article.

The article walks through some key points and issues in the current version of the Terms and Conditions for Apple’s iTunes Store (last updated June 21, 2010, as of the time of this posting). Topics include privacy, what happens if your downloaded content is lost or damaged, and licensing versus owning content.

Although not covered in the article, note that there is a difference in the Usage Rules for iTunes Plus Products (e.g., digital content such as songs and videos without digital rights management (DRM)) versus iTunes Products with DRM. See Apple’s Terms and Conditions, Part B (iTunes Store Terms and Conditions), Usage Rules Section, Subparagraph (vi). “Digital rights management” are security features that limit how you can use digital data. The iTunes songs and videos with DRM can only be used on five Apple–authorized devices at a time, and you can only burn an audio playlist to a CD up to seven times. The iTunes Plus Products (without DRM) do not have those restrictions—you can copy, store, and burn those songs and videos “as reasonably necessary for personal, noncommercial use” (subject to applicable copyright laws). According to Wikipedia, since April 2009, essentially all of the songs on iTunes are available without DRM. If you purchased older songs or videos with DRM, you can upgrade those songs or videos to iTunes Plus without DRM for a charge—more information is available on Apple’s iTunes Plus Frequently Asked Questions Page.

Another section of Apple’s Terms and Conditions that caught my eye is that unused balances of Apple Gift Certificates, iTunes Cards, and Allowances are not redeemable for cash (except as required by law) and are not transferable. So, for purposes of an estate inventory or an estate tax return, a deceased person’s unused balance in his or her iTunes account has no value (unless applicable state law would permit you to redeem it).

With respect to Apple’s Privacy Policy, Guy Tribble, Apple’s Vice President of Software Technology, gave testimony (PDF link) on May 10, 2011, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law in a hearing on “Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tables, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.” His testimony gives more details about Apple’s Privacy Policies, what information they collect about mobile devices, and how they use it. Several others also testified at the hearing.

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