Emerging Technology

Law professor argues US Federal Government should regulate social media “digital afterlives”

Andrew Sadauskas /

A leading US law professor specialising in intellectual property law has released a paper arguing the US Federal Government should play a greater role in regulating the “digital afterlives” of social media users.

Jason Mazzone, the Lynn H. Murray Faculty Scholar professor of law at the University of Illinois, says there are important unresolved legal issues surrounding the intellectual property rights of social media users.

“Virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death. This is true even though individuals have privacy and copyright interests in materials they post to social networking sites,” Mazzone says.

“The current situation is that there’s very little law involved. Social networking sites determine on their own what, if anything, to do with a deceased user’s account and the materials the user posted to the site.”

“And their policies are not likely to reflect the collective interests that exist with respect to copyright law. It’s a little bit like letting the bank decide what to do with your money after you die.”

“You only want the [US] Federal Government involved if there’s some failure on the part of the states. But it would be very difficult for any particular state to set up a legal regime that would adequately regulate Facebook, which not only operates all across the US but also all over the world.”

“Some states have enacted legislation in an effort to protect their own citizens, but it’s not at all clear how it would affect Facebook as a whole. In order for this type of law to be effective, we have to turn to the [US] Federal Government.”

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Andrew Sadauskas

Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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