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Yippee ki-yay, law maker: Bruce Willis may sue Apple over ownership of his digital music collection *updated*

Die Hard 5 Bruce WillisAt first, this appears to be a slightly ridiculous story that exists only because it features a movie star and the world’s most talked-about technology company, Apple. However, there is a little more to it than that, but first here’s the tabloid-friendly story:

Bruce Willis, star of many an action film including most recently, The Expendables 2, is said to be gathering a legal team to potentially fight Apple in court, over the ownership of his digital music collection.

This doesn’t refer to his own discography from the 80s and 90s, but to songs he has purchased through iTunes. Willis wants to pass on the presumably extensive collection — which according to The Sun contains songs by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin — to his children, Scout, Tallulah and Rumer after he dies.

Except Bruce has done what many of us haven’t — he has read the iTunes terms and conditions, which under the “nontransferable license” section clearly says that “licensed applications” (in this case, songs), cannot be used on any Apple device you do not own or control. You aren’t really purchasing the music through iTunes, but the rights to listen to it, which can’t be passed on to others.

His legal team is in the process of setting up a trust to hold his music collection, but if the report is accurate, he’s also readying them to go to court over the situation.

Save us, Bruce Willis!

For those not in the know, The Sun is one of the best-known tabloid newspapers in the UK, and as such a degree of sensationalism in its stories should be expected; but Bruce’s frustration will be felt by a great many others too.

Attempting to bequeath digital media isn’t as easy as it is with a physical collection of music, books or films. An estate attorney for a New Jersey law firm told the Wall Street Journal that despite digital collections being recognized as “an asset and something of value, the law is light years away from catching up.”

This won’t help Bruce Willis, who has the added problem of agreeing to the terms and conditions when he signed up with iTunes. It’s hard to argue about something when you’ve already accepted the consequences.

Setting up a trust is a way to circumvent the troublesome ownership issue, which according to the blurb on a site advertising such a service, “manages your digital assets and allows those who you preselect to access them without violation of the license terms and without potential liability.”

While this is probably the route Willis will end up taking, one must wonder what would happen if a media personality with clout stood up in court with the intention of changing the rules concerning digital content ownership. Could Willis, who has said “I think I could save the world five or six more times” before retiring, be that person?

*Update 09/04/12*

The story of Bruce against iTunes gained considerable traction yesterday, but after a Twitter user tweeted Emma Heming-Willis, Willis’ wife, a helpful suggestion, she replied that “it’s not a true story.” We warned that the source of our story, UK tabloid newspaper The Sun, was prone to sensationalism at the time — but it still seems an unusual subject to fabricate entirely. The origin of the rumor has yet to be discovered.