It’s something most people don’t want to think about, but it is inevitable: What happens to your online accounts and digital stuff when you shuffle off this mortal coil? Unless Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity is actually here, we are going to die and leave behind a much more complicated estate than our parents’ or grandparents’ probate attorneys ever dreamed possible. The issue clearly has NPR’s attention–their fourth story on the topic in three years aired today–and there are plenty of articles from other publications as well. The focus of the interview are the chaps who manage the website The Digital Beyond, and who have recently published a book of the same name. [Update: other sites offering similar services have been brought to my attention, such as Legacy Locker, Entrustet, and more.] They mostly focus on issues pertaining to email and social networks, but since this blog is all about virtual worlds, I thought I would touch on some of those issues here.
The major difference between your email, photo, blog and social network accounts is that many virtual world accounts actually have assets that you might want to sell or pass on to your heirs. While the asset is a limited license right, you always want to check the fine print to find out exactly how limited that license is. If you were the owner of a vast virtual land empire in Second Life or an immense space station in Project Entropia, you would probably want to be sure it doesn’t just escheat to the
state world owners unless that’s what you really want. I decided to do a little digging into how these two worlds’ terms of service agreements are worded. Interestingly, assigning virtual land to one’s heirs doesn’t seem to be in the cards for SL users, but actually is possible in Entropia. Second Life’s TOS § 6 states, “Except as expressly permitted by this Agreement, this Virtual Land License may not otherwise be encumbered, conveyed or made subject to any right of survivorship or other disposition and any attempted disposition in violation of these Terms of Service is null and void…” (emphasis added). Contrast that with this part of § 14 in Entropia Universe’s TOS, “Notwithstanding the foregoing, Your Entropia Universe Account will be disposable by Your legal successors by inheritance subject to terms and limitations, as applicable by MindArk from time to time…” (emphasis added). Obviously, it will take some effort, but at least the possibility exists.
I focused on those two because they are some of the most well known worlds that offer real money trading and thus have things that might legitimately be worth something to an heir (as opposed to valued on the black market, which I don’t condone). There may be others, including some of the major platforms in Asia that permit RMT for virtual assets, that allow inheritance (if you know any, leave a note in the comments), but the point here is that it is something that users should pay close attention to if they are going to invest in a virtual world in a major way. The key is always to read the fine print or find an attorney who can read it over more closely for you.