Consumers’ Digital Libraries Protected in Killion Bill

Senator Tom Killion has introduced legislation that would protect Pennsylvanians’ digital property for generations.

Killion’s bill would allow music, books, videos, photos and documents stored by tech giants such as Apple and Google to be transferred to beneficiaries once an individual dies.  This would be done the same way tangible property is transferred: by providing instructions in a will, trust or power of attorney.

“In today’s world, people invest a substantial amount of time and money building their digital libraries,” said Killion.  “Whether purchasing music online over many years or having a lifetime of photos stored digitally, these items are of great financial and personal value.  We need to have a law in place that allows this property to be transferred to loved ones after death,” he added.

Killion’s legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 320, is called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 46 states have passed laws related to digital assets.

Several stakeholder groups worked with Killion to draft the legislation, including Amazon, Apple, Google, the Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Under the bill, if individuals fail to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets before they die, the same court-appointed fiduciary that would traditionally manage tangible property would also now manage digital assets.

The legislation would allow a fiduciary to access digital property from cloud storage companies by sending a certified document proving their authority to manage these electronic assets.

Praising the legislation, Duncan Campbell, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association said, “Senate Bill 320 strikes the right balance between protecting the privacy of a decedent’s digital communications while also allowing their personal representative to access a catalogue of their digital assets that might be subject to probate.  As part of personal planning for end-of-life decisions or an incapacitating medical situation, we encourage all Pennsylvanians to make clear their wishes for their data files, particularly those that involve relationships with banking institutions.”

PA Bar President Charles Eppolito III commented, “The Pennsylvania Bar Association supports Senate Bill 320 as it would provide much needed access by agents and other fiduciaries to the digital assets of decedents or incapacitated individuals.  We are thankful to Senator Killion for his willingness to listen to all affected stakeholders in the drafting of this legislation.”

Killion said his legislation on digital assets is both needed and timely due to the enormous popularity of online transactions.

A Harris Interactive poll found that 72% of adults rated photos and videos as their most valued digital assets.  According to Statista.com, over 535 million digital music singles were downloaded in the U.S. in 2017 alone.  AuthorEarnings.com has reported that 487 million e-books are sold annually in this country.

“The time has come for tangible property and digital property to be treated equally under the law.  Loved ones should be able to enjoy our digital libraries long after we are gone,” Killion said.

For more information, contact Shannon Royer at sroyer@pasen.gov or (717) 787-4712.