Ownership of contents of online email account gets called into question after account owner dies — Ajemian v. Yahoo!, Inc., 987 N.E.2d 604 (Mass. Ct. App. May 7, 2013)
Who owns the data in an online account after the account owner dies? It’s a question that’s growing in importance as online email accounts become commonplace and cloud storage services like DropBox and Google Drive gain users. A Massachusetts court faced that question in Ajemian v. Yahoo!, Inc., but left it unresolved.
In Ajemian, an individual (Robert) opened a Yahoo! email account for the primary use of his brother, John. Robert shared the account as a co-user. Several years after Robert opened the account, John died. Robert and his sister Marianne were appointed co-administrators of John’s estate. At the time of John’s death, Robert had not accessed the Yahoo! account for several years and had forgotten the password.
Robert and Marianne tried to get access to the contacts in Yahoo! account to retrieve email addresses of John’s friends and notify them of John’s death and memorial service. Robert and Marianne also wanted access to the emails in the account to help identify and locate John’s assets and administer his estate.
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