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The law faces issue of virtual inheritance

China Daily

BEIJING - When people die, their relatives members can inherit their belongings, but does this law apply to the virtual world?

A woman surnamed Wang in Shenyang, Liaoning province, faced this thorny problem when she failed to get access to photographs and letters in her late husband's Internet mailbox because she did not know the password, Chinese Business Morning View reported on Wednesday.

The man, surnamed Xu, died in a traffic accident and Wang wanted to get the photos and messages in his postbox at QQ, an instant messaging tool of Tencent, because they recorded the couple's happy times.

Tencent refused to give Wang the password.

A Tencent employee, who did not want to be identified, said on Thursday QQ's customer service center staff members were sympathetic to Wang's plight and were trying to contact her.

"Our customer service people responded via Tencent Weibo on Thursday and will try their best to deal with Wang's case," she said, adding that password retrieval is a very complicated process that needs specific information from customers.

The Tencent official also said the center will verify Wang's identification and relevant information with the help of the local public security department because the company attaches great importance to customer privacy.

"When customers apply a QQ instant messaging tool, our company enters an online agreement with them that Tencent owns each QQ number," she said.

"That is to say, the customers only have the right to use QQ not to own any of it."

Under that rule, Wang could not have the photos and messages in her husband's mailbox, because that would go against her husband's agreement with Tencent.

Qian Jun, a Beijing-based lawyer specializing in Internet cases for Ying Ke Law Firm, said there is not yet any law to regulate online inheritance.

"Our country only has regulations about real objects," he said.

"Inheritance law and property law do not have a special clause to protect online legacies, such as documents, photos and messages in residents' mailboxes."

He added that this kind of legacy is a significant part of our lives now.

"Laws relating to the Internet do not cover it either. Under the law, online legacy should be the same as for real objects," Qian said.

"Our inheritance law should be reformed urgently to catch up with the fast development of the Internet and to provide the best protection for our residents."

In 2010, an online game fan in Haikou, Hainan province, had software worth 2,000 yuan ($313) stolen online, but the police rejected his case because there was no law that dealt with such a case.