Monthly Archives: June 2012

Digital Estates, Digital Heirs

In October of 2011, a friend of mine, James*, died after a nearly two year battle with cancer.  He had just turned 40 the previous May, which put everything into perspective for me.  Not long after I turned 40, I came down with the flu for the first time in my life.  To know James was to like him.  He had an infectious personality and an equally infectious grin.  Despite his cancer battles, he never relinquished hope for his future.  A few weeks before he passed away, he posted a message to Facebook simply stating that he’d just returned from another stay in the hospital and wasn’t feeling too good.  That was the last I heard from him.  I only learned of his death after I saw a message a friend of his posted to his Facebook page expressing remorse.

If you have a Facebook account, you know that you get messages about friends’ upcoming birthdays.  Whether they’re real friends – as in people you could call at 3:00 in the morning when you’re holding a knife over your wrists – is another matter.  But, I was surprised – almost angered – this past May when I received an email from Facebook advising me of James’ upcoming birthday.  Hadn’t someone thought to take down his Facebook page?  That no one had done so is what startled me; it also upset me.  I know it’s hard to let go of the ones we love, or even just like.  We have a tough time believing that they’re gone – even if they were very old and / or sick.  I had that response after my paternal grandmother died in 2001 at age 97.  I certainly felt the same when James finally succumbed to cancer; it seemed he hadn’t been getting any better.  But, as I sat in front of my computer and looked at that stupid Facebook email – ‘You have 1 friend with a birthday this week’ – I wondered who would take command of James’ property.  Did he leave a will?  Was there anything to leave?  And, to whom?  But, I’d always pondered what becomes of people’s digital property upon their demise.  Or, does digital property even exist?

That’s a question our society will have to face and ultimately answer as we grow more and more technologically advanced and interconnected.  It’s a quandary that beset an Oregon woman named Karen Williams when her son, Loren, died in a motorcycle accident at age 22 in 2005.  Williams found his Facebook password and emailed the company, asking administrators to maintain Loren’s account so she could look through his posts and comments by his friends.  But within two hours, she said, Facebook changed the password, thus blocking her efforts.

“I wanted full and unobstructed access, and they balked at that,” said Williams.  “It was heartbreaking.  I was a parent grasping at straws to get anything I could get.”

Under Facebook’s current policy, it puts a deceased person’s account in a “memorialized state.”  Certain information is removed, and privacy is restricted to friends only.  The profile and wall are left up so friends and relatives can make posts in remembrance.  Facebook will provide the estate of the deceased with a download of the account data “if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law.”  If a close relative asks that a profile be removed, Facebook will honor that request, too.

Keep in mind that Facebook was founded by a group of horny college boys who wanted a means of tracking the names and phone number of “hot chicks,” so it’s not exactly a repository of “Greatest Generation” stories.  But, there’s a principal inherent in that issue: digital property.  It’s a relatively new term.  Intellectual property, which is similar, doesn’t have that much more seniority.  And, as usual, the law struggles to keep up with the pace of technology.

When the Writers Guild of America (both West and East branches) went on strike in 2007, for example, one key demand focused on monetary compensation for “new media;” that is, content written for and / or distributed through emerging technologies, such as the Internet.  The movie and television studios weren’t prepared to address that particular matter and – as they always do when writers go on strike in the professional entertainment business – they had the audacity to be shocked and declare the writers’ claims unjustified.  But, apparently studio executives hadn’t learned any lessons from the 1988 WGA strike, which cost the entertainment industry millions in lost revenue in the state of California alone.

In a sense, though, the WGA battled for intellectual property rights.  But, the 2007 – 2008 strike was geared more towards that ubiquitous technology.  If a television or movie studio makes a profit from selling programs and films to I-pad users, why shouldn’t the writers who create that form of entertainment make money as well?

If I’m still alive when my parents die, their house will become mine.  It’s stipulated clearly in their last will and testament.  But, in the state of Texas – as in all states – physical property automatically goes to a surviving spouse, or a surviving child.  If my mother is still alive when my father dies, his collection of model cars would become her property.  Conversely, if my mother dies first, her jewelry would go to my father.  But, would my father’s email account go to my mother along with those model cars, should he die first?  What about all his genealogical research material?  He’s printed reams of data related to that research and carefully organized it into binders.  But, would my mother also have access to his Ancestral Quest account?  When she dies – a year later, or ten years later – those model cars consequently would become mine, since I’m their only heir.  But, would my father’s email and Ancestral Quest accounts also become mine after a year or ten years?

What if I die first?  I don’t have a formal will, but I composed a document stating that all my property, such as my books and National Geographic magazines and my own vast collection of model cars, go to my parents.  But, I included my personal computer and all of its data in that homemade will.  Would that hold up in a court of law?  If I die first and haven’t published my novel yet, can my parents submit it to a publisher and earn revenue from its sales?  I printed up a copy of it last year, simply so my parents could read it.  But, that was before I obtained the official copyright for it and made some major editing changes.  Would the digital version on this computer still be tangible?  In the past, writers have died before finishing their last work.  But, their heirs publish it anyway; sometimes with the help of a friend of that writer.

There are several entertainment figures who seem to make more money in death than they did while alive.  Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are among the most prominent.  Usually all or most of those proceeds go to their respective heirs.  The companies that distribute the material, such as songs and movies, also make a profit.

The crux of the argument is whether or not intellectual and digital property can be placed in the same category as physical property.  Many individuals have already addressed the matter.  Microsoft has developed an entire project dedicated to the subject.  Ultimately, I feel this will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I didn’t wish James a ‘Happy Birthday’ this past May – not on Facebook.  I wished him a ‘Happy Birthday’ in my private cogitations.  I don’t need established law to help me with that.  Neither Facebook, the state of Texas, nor the U.S. Supreme Court can bring back my friend.

*Name changed.

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I was afraid something like this would happen. I think perhaps it’s what Arizona’s elected officials hoped would occur: the Navajo and Hopi communities turning on one another to such a degree that they essentially end up giving relinquishing the water rights to the state.

Beyond the Mesas

A message from Ben Nuvamsa….

Attached for your information and dissemination is a complaint we (the former elected leaders of the Hopi Tribe who endorsed Action Item H-065-2012) filed against Hopi Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa for his failure and/or refusal to sign a duly enacted Tribal Council Resolution H-072-2012 that was passed on June 15, 2012, at the Hotevilla Elderly Center.  This resolution opposes and rejects Senator Jon Kyl’s Senate Bill 2109, Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012.  This Resolution was approved/passed by a majority vote of: 11 for; 4 opposed; 0 abstentions.  It represents the express will of our villages, village leaders and tribal members.

There was overwhelming objection to and rejection of Senate Bill 2109 by our villages and tribal members, yet Shingoitewa has purposely and deliberately refused to listen to the Hopi and Tewa people.  Instead, he signed Resolution H-073-2012 passed illegally on…

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June 28 Notable Birthdays

If today is your birthday, “Happy Birthday!”


Actor Bruce Davison (Widow’s Kiss, It’s My Party, Six Degrees of Separation, Longtime Companion, The Ladies Club, The Gathering, Mother, Jugs and Speed) is 66.


Actress Kathy Bates (Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes, Home of Our Own, Prelude to a Kiss) is 64.


Actress Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Joseph, Sharpe’s Honour, Sleepwalkers, Barfly, Chariots of Fire, A Tale of Two Cities, In the Company of Spies) is 58.


Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway (Super Bowls XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXXII, XXXIII: MVP) is 52.


Actor John Cusack (Money for Nothing, The Player, True Colors, Bullets over Broadway, The Grifters, Say Anything) is 46.


Actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Kate Brasher, Heaven’s Prisoners, Radioland Murders, Funny About Love, Benny & Joon, Fried Green Tomatoes, Heaven Help Us) is 46.


Actor Gil Bellows (The Shawshank Redemption, Ally McBeal) is 45.


Actress Danielle Brisebois (All in the Family, Knots Landing, Annie, Mom, the Wolfman and Me) is 43.


Actress Tichina Arnold (Little Shop of Horrors, Martin, Big Momma’s House) is 41.


Actor Alessandro Nivola (Jurassic Park III, Face/Off, Timecode) is 40.

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On June 28…

1491 – King Henry VIII of England was born at Greenwich Palace in London.


1577 – Artist Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, Netherlands.


1712 – Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland.


1894 – President Grover Cleveland signed an act of Congress, making Labor Day a federal holiday in the U.S.

1902 – Composer Richard Rodgers (It Might as Well be Spring; with Oscar Hammerstein: The Sound of Music, Love Me Tonight, My Funny Valentine, The Lady is a Tramp, Oklahoma!, State Fair, The King and I, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Carousel) was born in New York City.


1905 – Author – anthropologist Ashley Montagu (The Natural Superiority of Women, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race) was born in London.


1906 – Physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer (won 1963 Nobel Prize with J. Hans Jensen & Eugene Wigner for nuclear shell theory; 1st American woman to win a Nobel Prize) was born in Kattowitz, Germany.


1914 – World War I began, when Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia.


1919 – With the signing of The Treaty of Versailles, World War I officially ended.

1953 – Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, MI, assembled the first Corvette.


1969 – A police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City turned violent and prompted a night of rioting.  The event is generally considered the start of the modern gay rights movement.


1976 – Women entered the Air Force Academy for the first time.  President Gerald R. Ford had signed legislation on October 7, 1975 allowing women to enter the nation’s military academies.


1994 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would begin experimenting with a UV (ultraviolet) Index, “To enhance public awareness of the effects of overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and to provide the public with actions they can take to reduce harmful effects of overexposure, which may include skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression.”


1996 – The Citadel, which had fought to keep one woman from enrolling as a cadet in its all-male military academy in 1993, abruptly ended its opposition to enrolling qualified female cadets.  The change of policy happened after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar all-male policy at the Virginia Military Institute was unconstitutional.

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Cartoon of the Day

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Picture of the Day

It’s so damn hot in Texas!

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Quote of the Day

“We are outraged to see the Supreme Court ignoring the constitutional limits the Founders put in place to constrain the federal government’s power over us.  Shame on them!  With this decision they have given a blank check to the federal government, forever altering the constitutional concept of checks and balances that has been so crucial throughout our history.  We wholeheartedly believe we must strive to make health care more affordable for all Americans.  But, it is inconceivable to believe we must infringe on our constitutional rights in order to achieve that.”

Penny Nance, Chief Executive Officer and President of Concerned Women for America, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Nance and the menopausal heifers that comprise the CWA gang didn’t seem to mind the Bush Administration infringing upon the will of the American people to invade Iraq and provide unfunded tax cuts to the wealthiest citizens.  But, I guess that kind of warped thinking is one effect of Botox addiction.

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Growing old always beats the alternative.  Then again, I’ll never get old!  I’ll just keep fermenting nicely.

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June 27 Notable Birthdays

If today is your birthday, “Happy Birthday!”


Billionaire industrialist and philanthropist H. Ross Perot (1992 and 1996 presidential candidate) is 82.


Actress Shirley Anne Field (The Entertainer, Hear My Song, Shag: The Movie, Getting It Right, Two by Forsyth, My Beautiful Laundrette, House of the Living Dead, Alfie) is 74.


Actress Julia Duffy (Designing Women, Newhart, Children in the Crossfire, Night Warning) is 61.


Actress Isabelle Adjani (Queen Margot, Ishtar, Subway, The Tenant, The Story of Adele H, The Slap) is 57.


Actor Tobey Maguire (Great Scott, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Cider House Rules, Spider-Man) is 37.

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On June 27…

1874 – A force of some 700 Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians in northwest Texas clashed with 28 White hunters and traders at an old trading post called “Adobe Walls” over buffalo hunting.


1880 – Author and educator Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, AL.


1922 – The American Library Association awarded the first Newbery Medal for children’s literature to The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon.


1957 – Hurricane Audrey slammed into the Texas – Louisiana coast, killing some 500 people.  It remains the only Category 4 hurricane to develop in the Atlantic / Caribbean basin in the month of June.


1976 – The first reported case of a previously-unknown hemorrhagic fever called Ebola broke out near the Ebola River in Sudan.

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