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iTunes License

I’ve been chatting in class lately with students about user-license agreements relating to digital products (who hasn’t?) and we keep coming back to the iTunes license and the question of who “owns” your iTunes library.  There was a news story a while back about Bruce Willis being shocked that he couldn’t leave his iTunes library to his children in his will because he didn’t really own any of the music.  Some of my students and I started wondering what Apple actually says in the license about ownership of the music and whether ownership of the music library could be linked in any way with a notion of ownership of the user account.  When I actually looked at the license, I was interested in the way the terms on user accounts were actually drafted:


As a registered user of the iTunes Service, you may establish an account (“Account”). Don’t reveal your Account information to anyone else. You are solely responsible for maintaining the confidentiality and security of your Account and for all activities that occur on or through your Account, and you agree to immediately notify Apple of any security breach of your Account. Apple shall not be responsible for any losses arising out of the unauthorized use of your Account.”

I’m really interested in the wording of the second sentence of this paragraph.  Unlike the rest of the agreement it’s drafted in the imperative i.e. “Do not…” rather than in more traditional contract language.  Does anyone think this is significant?  Does it mean that Apple understands that it really can’t contractually control what a user does with his or her password, so this is written more as a direction to the user rather than a contract term?  Or am I reading too much into it?

5 thoughts on “iTunes License”

  1. I think you’re reading too much into it. I’ve always read the iTunes agreement as being deliberately vague about “ownership,” particularly as compared to the Amazon terms, which are framed entirely as “you hereby get a license.”

  2. Thanks, Fred. That makes a lot of sense. My overall impression of the terms were that they were surprisingly vague, so that might be why that particular sentence stood out. I appreciate your comments.

  3. When you look at how Apple about approached content historically — 99c price ceilings, “convert to mp3” functionality, “Rip. Mix. Burn.”, it’s pretty clear their main interest was selling devices, with content being viewed as fuel. Amazon had to work with the publishing industry to sell e-books, and the Kindle wasn’t native to what Amazon did, and it didn’t emerge from a free online book-sharing culture. That may explain the difference a bit?
    The Bruce Willis story is apocryphal apparently,
    I’m writing something short about this re inheritance of digital assets for the New Jersey Bar Association’s magazine.

  4. Great points, Greg. I was interviewed by the local media when the Bruce Willis story came out and that’s what got me thinking about it in the first place. Can you send me a copy of your bar association piece when it comes out?

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