“Facebook’s Afterlife,” 90 N.C. L. Rev. 1643 (2012)
The article “Facebook’s Afterlife” by Professor Jason Mazzone is a very good discussion about the concern that the ultimate legal ownership of content on social networking sites doesn’t reside with the creator or individual, but rather with the site itself. When an individual dies, the information placed on the site becomes the intangible property of the social network. Prof. Mazzone discusses the use of social networks with 800 million Facebook users and how the Facebook site, as well as other social media sites, works using specific examples. He notes that over 375,000 Facebook users in the United States die each year, and a variety of complaints have been registered about the handling of a deceased user’s accounts. Prof. Mazzone explores the idea that the intangible property or content of the site could be deemed intellectual property of the account owner, so the information should be subject to federal regulation.
The author points out that five states already have laws governing the property of social network sites, and while some tradeoffs will have to occur, regulation to determine the ultimate disposition of content on social networks is something that other states need to consider.
With the expanded use of social networks to communicate and retain confidential information, I believe that this article discusses a very timely and important issue for families, which estate-planning attorneys need to consider. Content on social networks could be viewed as one of the assets of an estate. The sites could also contain information that heirs may want to have and pass on to the next generation. Attorneys will gain insight into how the network sites work and the possible regulation that may occur. The author suggests that a law could be enacted that would provide for the account holder of the site to designate what happens to her site when she dies, or a law could be enacted that designates that the site becomes the property of her estate. The article also discusses the privacy concerns and the need for confidentially of the content on the networks and the control that’s currently within the legal hands of the social networks.
With social media becoming such an important part of the our culture, this article will help attorneys to understand how these sites work and the legal issues associated with ownership of the content thereon.