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Ownership of Digital Assets after death – Tupac’s Estate wins five year legal battle

US rapper Tupac Shakur released four studio albums before his death in 1996. Several more albums have been released after his death, and it seems there are more to come. His Estate has now won a 5-year legal battle to recover royalties due, and the legal rights over the master tracks of more unreleased songs.

After his death, Tupac’s Shakur’s mother Afeni Shakur acted as the administrator of his Estate. She claimed that Entertainment One had failed to pay the Estate the royalties from at least one of these posthumous albums, and that they were refusing to release master tracks of his music to the Estate.

Ms Shakur died in 2016, however, the claim was continued by Tom Whalley, who was Head of Loma Vista Recordings. The claim has now concluded in Court after a lengthy battle. Entertainment One have been ordered to pay the royalties to the Estate, and the estate have been granted access and exclusive rights to his unreleased music. There is potential for further albums which could be released as a result.

The Estate has made millions of dollars from royalties and branding; and with over 75 million records worldwide, this is expected to continue.

The claim for the rights to the unreleased music might have been avoided if the ownership to his music post death had been specified in a Will. This would have enabled his Administrators and/or beneficiaries to enforce their rights over these assets, and avoid such a lengthy (and no doubt expensive) legal battle.

Creative digital property and assets can be incredibly valuable, as well as the intellectual property rights in his image, name and branding which is now making the Estate millions. If you own any digital assets, including social media brands, online assets or even photos, it is important to take advice when making a Will and to include these in your Will as part of your Estate.

There have been recent cases over the control of social media accounts, such as Facebook, after someone has died, because not only do they have sentimental and personal value to the deceased and their family, they also include aspects that are personal to others as well, such as emails and photos. Further, some digital assets have financial value such as PayPal accounts, domain names and other businesses or digital property which can generate revenue.  Any digital assets including photos and other aspects, should be downloaded and backed up regularly, so that they will not be lost.  Creating a list of passwords that can be kept securely, so that they can be accessed after death maybe helpful.  Including digital assets in a schedule to your Will can assist the Executors to deal with them how you want them to be dealt with. Otherwise there is a risk of a dispute which can be stressful and expensive for all involved.