Bruce Willis might be suing Apple UPDATE: But he isn't.

The actor apparently wants to leave his iTunes collection to his four daughters.

The Daily Mail reports the Bruce Willis – he of Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, and, of course, "worst picture of the decade" nominated mega-flop Hudson Hawk fame – is said to be considering legal action against Apple, in order to be able to leave his iTunes collection to his daughters.

Neil Sears writes:

If he succeeds, he could benefit not just himself and his family but the millions who have purchased songs from Apple’s iTunes Store.

Willis has discovered that, like anyone who has bought music online, he does not actually own the tracks but is instead ‘borrowing’ them under a licence.

Most purchasers do not bother to read the details of the terms and conditions they agree to when buying an album but the small print makes it clear that music bought through iTunes should not be passed on to others.

At the risk of being wrong: Willis is not going to win this one.

European courts have been increasingly active in ruling that "first sale doctrine" – which states that exclusive rights to distribution are exhausted after the first sale – holds for digital goods, since a right to use a good for an unlimited period of time, when exchanged for money, is legally indistinguishable from a sale. This was most recently demonstrated when the ECJ declared in July that consumers have a right to resell downloaded software as "used".

US courts, on the other hand, have been far more inclined to treat the licenses under which digital goods are sold as legally enforceable contracts. So, for instance, MDY v Blizzard, a case in which Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of World of Warcraft, sued a manufacturer of cheating software, was found in Blizzard's favour in part because it was held that users are merely licensees, not owners, of the World of Warcraft software.

For Willis to win, he would most likely have to get the contract declared unenforceable, which would have far more wide-ranging effects than merely letting him pass music on to his daughters. For one, it would open the door to used sales of digital media, but it would also severely limit the ability of businesses to control how their digital goods are used. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether those businesses then change their offerings. But, as one example, would Adobe continue to sell student editions of their software if first sale doctrine allowed those students to resell the software at will?

Update

We should have known it was too good to be true. The Guardian's Charles Arthur reports that Willis' wife has denied the story, and that the Mail's reporting of it was most likely an uncredited lift from the Sunday Times. But where did the story come from? Arthur writes:

There's an article from Marketwatch, from 23 August, which bears an odd resemblance - but it has no mention of legal challenge. It's all talk about Estates and Wills.

Which brings us to a horrible pause: might it be that someone saw a mention of "Estates and Wills" and thought it was "estates and Willis"?

Erk.

Bruce Willis when he's not suing Apple. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder